Photo/IllutrationPlaintiff Takahiro Kanno, left, speaks about the verdict in Chiba’s Chuo Ward on March 14. (Kento Matsushima)

  • Photo/Illustraion

CHIBA--A district court here on March 14 absolved the central government of responsibility but ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to pay compensation to nine of 19 plaintiffs who evacuated to Chiba.

The Chiba District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay a total of about 5.1 million yen ($45,630) to nine plaintiffs who evacuated out of radiation fears following the nuclear accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The 19 plaintiffs were from six households who voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima to Chiba Prefecture. The plaintiffs sought a total of 247 million yen from TEPCO and the central government.

While the presiding judge ordered TEPCO to pay compensation to nine plaintiffs from four households, it denied the central government’s responsibility.

“We can’t say that it is illegal that the central government didn’t force TEPCO to take preventive measures against a tsunami,” the judge said.

The ruling conceded that the central government could have foreseen, in 2006 at the latest, that a tsunami could engulf the nuclear power plant, if it reconsidered a long-term appraisal it released in 2002.

The long-term appraisal estimated a 20-percent possibility of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring between the coast off the Sanriku region in the Tohoku region to the coast off the Boso Peninsula of Chiba Prefecture within the next 30 years.

On the other hand, the court pointed out, “There are a wide variety of risks for nuclear power plants and resources are limited for prevention measures.

“We can’t say that the decision to prioritize taking safeguard measures against earthquakes over tsunami was unreasonable.”

As for compensation, the verdict noted: “We can’t completely deny the risks of damage to evacuees' health,” even if living outside evacuation order areas.

Compensation was limited to the nine plaintiffs in amounts ranging between 150,000 yen and 1.12 million yen, depending on where they were living and their current living situation.

When the court's decision was read out, furious voices were heard in the courtroom gallery. One person yelled out, “It is an unfair verdict.” Another said, “such a verdict could be made only in Chiba."

Plaintiffs said at a news conference afterward that they are not convinced by the court's decision.

About 30 similar lawsuits have been filed at district courts around Japan. The verdict in the Chiba case is the ninth. Among seven suits in which the central government was named as a defendant, this is the second time that a court has denied the government's responsibility, following another ruling at the Chiba District Court in September 2017.

In February, the Yokohama District Court held the central government and TEPCO responsible for the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and ordered both to pay damages to evacuees.

After the ruling on March 14, plaintiff Takahiro Kanno, 56, dropped his shoulders and said, “As our lawsuit was conducted after the favorable verdict (in Yokohama), I expected more but my mind is now blank.”

Kanno evacuated from Fukushima to Noda, Chiba Prefecture, along with his wife and three kids seven months after the disaster. He endured a difficult period when his wife was depressed and their children refused to go to school.

“The central government had promoted nuclear power plants since my elementary school days," Kanno said. "But isn't it strange that it says it doesn’t have responsibility once accidents occurred?"

Noriko Haneda, 63, head of the plaintiffs, who evacuated to Chiba city from Fukushima along with her daughter, said through tears, “I can’t say anything. What has my past eight years been about?”

(This article was compiled from reports by Tomomi Terasawa and Erika Matsumoto.)