Enormous tsunami judged to be beyond assumptions

Even though more than 11 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, there are people who continue to live as evacuees. The Supreme Court ruled that the central government is not liable for this situation, but support for people hit hard by the disaster must not be slackened.

The top court handed down the ruling that the central government is not liable to pay the damages sought by evacuees and others in four class-action lawsuits in connection with the nuclear accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The district courts and high courts were split in their rulings, so this is the first uniform judgment.

The Supreme Court concluded that, even if the central government had ordered TEPCO to take measures, it was highly likely that the company could not have prevented its facilities from being flooded because the scale of the tsunami was much greater than estimated. The court likely judged that there was a limit to making preparations for natural disasters that are beyond human knowledge.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. also is a defendant in the case and the company has been ordered to pay a total of about ¥1.4 billion in damages, a decision that has already been finalized. The latest Supreme Court ruling fixes the framework for the entire burden to be on TEPCO as the party responsible for paying damages to the evacuees and others participating in the lawsuits.

The law on nuclear damage compensation states that plant operators should pay damages in connection with nuclear accidents. In line with guidelines set by the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, TEPCO has set the amounts of compensation, for example, at ¥14.5 million for those who lived in difficult-to-return zones and ¥8.5 million for residents of restricted residence zones.

In response, residents and others filed a series of lawsuits in many places, claiming that the amounts are insufficient. There are about 30 such lawsuits, and some rulings ordering increases in compensation have been finalized.

The residents who evacuated were suddenly forced to leave their homes and start unfamiliar lives in new places. Many people were likely forced to change their jobs or schools. As the plaintiffs are aging, a comprehensive resolution is needed as soon as possible.

The dispute reconciliation committee has begun discussing whether to revise the guidelines on compensation. The panel reportedly will consider necessary responses by analyzing the rulings that have been handed down so far.

Some people have given up returning to their former homes due to having lived as evacuees for a long time. There must be many people whose living environment and future plans, among other matters, have changed since the beginning of their evacuation.

It is important for the central government to implement meticulous measures by looking into the individual circumstances of the disaster victims. It is hoped that the government will provide assistance that will be satisfactory.

More than 30,000 people are still living as evacuees. Consideration is also essential to ensure that there are no differences between plaintiffs and disaster victims who are not party to the lawsuits.

Regarding the nuclear accident, a criminal trial continues for three former TEPCO executives who came under mandatory indictment by an independent judicial panel of citizens, after prosecutors had decided not to bring charges against them, while a shareholder derivative lawsuit has also been filed. It is crucial to clarify responsibility for the accident and provide lessons for the next generation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 19, 2022)