In a first, Japanese court rules that nuclear plant operator is liable for suicide via The Washington Post

A court in Fukushima has ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Japanese nuclear power plant operator, can be held responsible for the suicide of a woman who became depressed after the 2011 disaster.

The court ordered Tepco to pay $470,000 to Mikio Watanabe and his children, after their 58-year-old wife and mother, Hamako, killed herself a few months after nuclear meltdown that followed the earthquake and tsunami forced them out of their home and destroyed their livelihoods.

The ruling was the first time that the struggling utility had been found liable for a suicide resulting from the accident, and could galvanize others seeking redress against the company.


The Watanabes worked on a chicken farm in the mountain town of Yamakiya, about 23 miles from the nuclear plant but which was not included in the government’s original evacuation zone.

However, a month after the disaster, the town was declared radioactive and the Watanabes moved to a cramped apartment in a city further away from the plant.

Watanabe told The Washington Post in 2012 that his wife started taking sleeping pills. They both lost their jobs when their chicken farm was forced to close, and they lost their house, on which they still owed $140,000.

They returned to their house for one night in June 2011, when short visits were allowed. The next morning, Watanabe found his wife’s body outside.


Citing Cabinet office data, NHK, the broadcaster, reported Tuesday that there had been 130 suicides in nine prefectures between June 2011 and July 2014 that could be linked to the 2011 earthquake and the nuclear plant accident.

Fukushima, which bore the brunt of the disaster, accounted for 40 percent of the suicides, which have been going up, not down, in the years following the disaster. Ten people killed themselves in 2011 but 23 took their own lives last year, NHK reported.

Separately, a study released on Monday suggested an increase in the number of children in Fukushima who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which can be linked to exposure to radiation but has not, in this case, definitively been traced back to the nuclear accident.

The study, by the Fukushima prefecture government, said 57 children under the age of 18 had now been diagnosed with the disease.

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