How to Flirt with Disaster and Pay: the class actions of Fukushima refugees

image with wikipedia

Negligence by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. caused the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a court ruled on October 10, 2017 in the biggest class-action suit related to the March 2011 accident.

The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tepco to pay a total of Yen 498 million ($4.4 million) plus delinquency charges to 2,907 people who fled the radiation that was released into the air and water after a tsunami flooded the power plant, knocking out the power to the vital cooling system. It was the second time a court found the government responsible for failing to prepare adequately for the likelihood of a large tsunami wave hitting the plant.

If Japan’s government had ordered Tepco to make sure the plant was ready to withstand a tsunami wave of 15.7 meters (51.5 feet), Tepco would have made sure critical instruments were waterproof, Tuesday’s ruling said.”The accident, triggered by total loss of power, could have been avoided, ” Judge Hideki Kanazawa said.

The compensation represents a small fraction of the damages the residents had sought. They also wanted compensation for every month that radiation levels stay above normal, but the court rejected that claim. Still, with some 30 class-action lawsuits so far brought by more than 10,000 affected residents. The October 11, 2017 ruling is a sign additional compensation costs could weigh on both the government and Tepco for years to come.  Tepco has so far paid more than Yen7.6 trillion ($67 billion) in compensation to residents affected by the accident, and has been struggling to clean up the reactors — a daunting technological task that could take decades.

As of September 2017, nearly 55,000 Fukushima residents are registered as evacuees, meaning they can’t return home and haven’t settled permanently elsewhere.

The plaintiffs argued the government and Tepco failed to give adequate attention to studies that said a major tsunami could occur in the area of the plant. One 2002 study by the government’s Earthquake Research Promotion Unit said there was a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 tsunami-triggering earthquake in the area off Fukushima within 30 years. Another study by Tepco’s senior safety engineer in 2007 found there was about a 10% chance that a tsunami could breach Fukushima Daiichi’s defenses within 50 years.

The defendants said the scientific basis for such predictions was unclear, and even if the calculations were correct, the chance was too low to require immediate steps in response. The government said it wasn’t until after the accident that it gained the ability to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures. Both argued the compensation already being paid to displaced people was adequate.

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant, knocking out auxiliary power sources that were supposed to keep the reactors’ cooling systems running. Three reactors melted down.

Excerpts from Redress Ordered In Fukushima Case, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 11, 2017

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