Six years after a tsunami crashed into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three of the plant’s seven reactors to melt down in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, a Japanese district court in Fukushima prefecture ruled this week that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Reuters reported citing local media sources. It was the third civil court ruling to find Tepco financially liable, and the second to produce an admission of wrongdoing from the inept utility.
However, considering the billions of dollars in damage caused by the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown – not to mention the tens of thousands of lives that were disrupted – the judgment is hardly a victory. Especially considering Tepco has been roundly condemned for negligently failing to take the necessary precautions to prevent just such a disaster.
A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across Japan. This is the second ruling to hold the government responsible, following a Maebashi district court decision in March, Reuters reported.
The fact that Tepco has managed to largely avoid consequences for its botched handling of the disaster at Fukushima, from failing to anticipate the possibility that a natural disaster might severely damage the plants to allowing radioactive material to spill into the soil and the Pacific Ocean. And while the cleanup effort has become a top government priority ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the company’s engineers have had trouble locating the lost reactor cores inside the ruined reactors.
Tepco notoriously waited months to disclose the true extent of the damage at Fukushima. Furthermore, the company admitted in 2013 that it had allowed more than 300 tons of contaminated wastewater to leak into the Pacific.
This year, as the Japanese government has cut off subsidies to Fukushima disaster victims, forcing the first of tens of thousands of displaced residents to return to their abandoned homes, Tepco has courted controversy by proposing to dump more radioactive wastewater into the Pacific, provoking outrage among local fishermen.
The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said.
In an amusing twist, Tepco on Friday disclosed that Kobe Steel’s Shinko Metal Products unit supplied Tepco with piping for the Fukushima Dai-Ni nuclear power plant that didn’t meet specifications. Luckily, the piping was never used, and is currently sitting in a warehouse, Tepco said.