Japan’s government not liable for damages to refugees over Fukushima nuclear disaster, top court rules

Plaintiffs and their supporters walk toward the Tokyo Supreme Court on Friday in Tokyo.

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that the central government is not responsible for paying damages to residents who were displaced following the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

This was the first top court ruling in a series of similar lawsuits filed nationwide.

The court’s Second Petty Bench, presided by Justice Hiroyuki Kanno, handed down the ruling on four class-action lawsuits in which about 3,660 residents were seeking damages from the government. The residents were forced to leave their homes under the government’s evacuation orders following the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s nuclear plant in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“The earthquake and tsunami were larger than expected,” the top court said. “Therefore, even if the government had made TEPCO take preventive measures, the accident could not have been avoided.” About 30 similar lawsuits have been filed, with more than 10,000 plaintiffs seeking to hold the government accountable for the accident. Friday’s ruling will likely impact these cases.

In the four class-action lawsuits, the residents also demanded compensation from TEPCO. In March, the top court rejected the company’s appeal and upheld the decision ordering TEPCO to pay compensation in excess of the national standard. The total amount of compensation is about ¥1.45 billion, which will now be borne solely by TEPCO.