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Plaintiffs gathered outside the courthouse in Japan on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Photo: Lisa Torio/@liisabobisa/Twitter)

Court Awards Fukushima Residents Measly $3,200 for Nuclear Disaster That Made Area Unlivable

Japanese government and TEPCO ordered to pay only fraction of damages sought

Jessica Corbett

In the largest of about 30 lawsuits related to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, a district court in Japan on Tuesday ordered the Japanese government and an electric utility to pay nearly 500 million yen ($4.4 million) in damages—but with thousands of plaintiffs, each of them will only receive a few thousand U.S. dollars, at most.

"The plaintiffs, who included Fukushima residents who were not told to evacuate, will each receive up to 360,000 yen," or about $3,200, the Guardian reports. "The court rejected a demand for monthly compensation of 55,000 yen until radiation at the plaintiffs' homes has fallen to pre-disaster levels."

Only about 2,900 of the 3,800 Fukushima Prefecture residents who filed the class action suit against Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and the government will be eligible to collect damages, according to the Japan Times. Of those 3,800 plaintiffs, the Asahi Shimbun reports "only about 10 percent were living in areas where government evacuation orders were issued."

Not only is the financial reward a fraction of the 16 billion yen the plaintiffs sought, but the court also declined to require TEPCO to restore the levels of radioactivity at residents' homes to what they were before the March 2011 disaster—when a magnitude 9 earthquake led to a tsunami that flooded the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to melt down. 

"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," the Wall Street Journal reports.

"One 2002 study by the government's Earthquake Research Promotion Unit said there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude 8 tsunami-triggering earthquake in the area off Fukushima within 30 years," the Journal notes. "Another study by TEPCO's senior safety engineer in 2007 found there was about a 10 percent chance that a tsunami could breach Fukushima Daiichi's defenses within 50 years."

"The accident, triggered by total loss of power, could have been avoided," said Judge Hideki Kanazawa.

In a statement, the plaintiffs and their attorneys said the ruling "legally determined the negligence of both the government's nuclear policy and TEPCO, which supported a 'nuclear myth' that put a priority on economic interests rather than on safety."

Only a few of the 30 similar suits filed by some 12,000 Fukushima residents have been decided so far.

"This is the second court ruling that fixed the government's responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March," Reuters reports. "All the three district court decisions so far have ordered TEPCO to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation."

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