The Kyoto and Tokyo district courts have ruled in succession that the government is responsible, along with Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), for the disaster at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

About 30 group lawsuits have been filed by evacuees from the disaster, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011. District courts have so far ruled on seven of them, including five in which the government is the co-defendant. Four of those rulings went against the government.

The government has maintained that the legal liability lies with TEPCO, whereas it is only socially responsible. But the civil suits are setting a precedent for denying that claim.

The opinion of the judiciary, which says the tsunami was foreseeable and the disaster could have been prevented if only the government had appropriately exercised its authority, should not be taken lightly. All individuals who are tasked with the safety of nuclear power plants should take it seriously.

Having learned lessons from the disaster, Tokyo has taken a series of measures, including establishing the Nuclear Regulation Authority, a body independent from ministries and an agency that is a proponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy.

That said, however, there should be no end to the pursuit of safety. The government should make unremitting efforts to aggressively assimilate state-of-the-art knowledge to eliminate even the slightest chance of another nuclear disaster.

The succession of court decisions has also raised questions about the way sufferers from the disaster are being compensated.

All the seven rulings so far, including on cases with TEPCO as the sole defendant, have awarded damages in excess of the amounts prescribed in the guidelines that have been set forth by a government committee.

Despite differences in the content, appraisal and values of the damages acknowledged, the rulings indicate the government guidelines, along with TEPCO’s compensation standards that are based thereon, have failed to address the reality of suffering that is at once diverse and serious.

TEPCO should listen carefully, in paying the damages, to the voices of every single disaster sufferer instead of insisting on its own reparation standards.

Tokyo also faces the question of how seriously it will work on relief efforts.

The government committee has said it has no immediate plans for reviewing its guidelines because the court decisions have yet to be finalized. But such a stance would be of little help toward fair and prompt relief measures.

It will take a long time before final court rulings are rendered. It would be sincere to start studying how the guidelines should be reviewed while monitoring the successive rulings to be delivered by the courts.

Worthy of particular consideration is a response to those who evacuated at their own discretion.

Many of the “voluntary evacuees” are only eligible to receive a total of 120,000 yen ($1,150) according to TEPCO’s standards, but some have won the right, through court proceedings, to receive millions of yen in damages.

One court ruling said it is in some cases deemed appropriate, in light of conventional wisdom, for people to evacuate for fear of the risks of radiation exposure even if they are not ordered by public administrative bodies to do so. Another court decision said the disaster violated the plaintiffs’ right to decide for themselves where to live.

No small number of nuclear disaster evacuees have been distressed by prejudice and slander. Their circumstances may be diverse, but each is a victim of Japan’s nuclear energy policy.

The government should take the lead in facing up to its own responsibility to ensure that the evacuees will be supported by the entire society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 25