Photo/IllutrationHiromu Murata, leader of a group of plaintiffs, talks about the Yokohama District Court’s ruling in Yokohama on Feb. 20. (Ryo Ikeda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

YOKOHAMA--The district court here Feb. 20 ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to jointly pay 420 million yen ($3.79 million) in damages to evacuees over the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It held the two parties responsible for the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

This brings to eight the number of rulings in similar lawsuits that found TEPCO responsible for the suffering of evacuees.

Of six similar lawsuits brought against the government, five found the state responsible.

Thirty or so group lawsuits were filed around Japan by evacuees seeking redress.

A group of 175 plaintiffs who moved to Kanagawa Prefecture after evacuating from Fukushima Prefecture because of the nuclear disaster were involved in the suit with the Yokohama District Court.

Presiding Judge Ken Nakadaira ordered the government and the utility to pay 420 million yen in compensation to 125 plaintiffs who fled to Kanagawa Prefecture after being ordered to evacuate from their communities. The remaining 50 plaintiffs fled out of fears for their safety, although no evacuation order was issued.

The plaintiffs had demanded 20 million yen each, in addition to compensation for damage to their homes and other property.

A focus of the court battle was whether the government and TEPCO could have foreseen the possibility of a temblor on the scale of the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake striking the plant, and the likelihood of a power blackout if the coastal complex was inundated by tsunami.

The court found that it was indeed possible as early as September 2009 to predict that towering tsunami could swamp the plant.

The court also said hydrogen explosions that rocked the plant could have been avoided if power systems inside the nuclear complex had been installed in an elevated area, which TEPCO neglected to do.

With regard to the government’s responsibility, the court ordered the payout to victims for breaching their right to a peaceful life.

“It could have ordered the company to install power facilities that met certain technological levels, but it failed to do so,” the court said.

Plaintiffs welcomed the Yokohama District Court ruling.

Hiromu Murata, 76, who led the plaintiff group, called on the government to “address the problem of evacuees responsibly.”

He accused the government of taking measures "based on the premise that the nuclear disaster is over," but he said, "there is no change in the reality that we must continue to live as evacuees.”

Another plaintiff who evacuated from the Odaka district of Minami-Soma, part of the 20-kilometer no-entry zone from the plant, said her life was upended by the nuclear disaster.

“I had my job and community taken away,” said the woman, who is in her 50s and now lives in Yokohama by herself. “I feel I have been left behind by society. I cannot have a sense of closure unless TEPCO is forced to be held accountable.”

(This article was written by Naoto Iizuka and Hirohisa Yamashita.)