When on Sept. 22 the Chiba District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to pay some 376 million yen in damages to a group of Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees, it gave concrete recognition to the evacuees’ loss — of hometowns, jobs and personal relationships — for the first time.
Six and a half years after the disaster, even in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, the reconstruction of the communities that once thrived there is still a distant prospect. However, though it absolved the government of legal liability, this court ruling — the second in a slew of class action suits filed against TEPCO and the government — can be said to be a breakthrough far exceeding previous compensation levels.
“The Maebashi District Court (in March) recognized the responsibility of both the government and TEPCO, but this ended up feeling like a victory in name only, with no ‘reward.’ But it can be said that the Chiba (District Court) decision finally reaped ‘rewards,”’ commented lawyer Katsuyoshi Suzuki, lead counsel of the plaintiffs’ legal team in the Maebashi court case, who was at a gathering in Chiba awaiting the Sept. 22 ruling.
What stood out was that the court explicitly recognized the payout as compensation for the loss of hometowns, jobs and personal relationships suffered by the nuclear disaster evacuees. The majority of the plaintiffs in the Chiba case were residents of designated evacuation zones, and claimed they lost their livelihoods, relationships and local customs to the nuclear disaster, and were stripped of their right to live a peaceful life. They had sought 20 million yen in compensation each, saying that the interim guidelines did not accurately reflect the pain of losing their hometowns.
Concerning communities where the evacuation orders had been lifted by this spring, including the village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, TEPCO cited falling radiation levels and infrastructure restoration as evidence that the plaintiffs’ claim that they lost their hometowns permanently was false. As such, TEPCO argued that their current compensation standards were sufficient.
However, even in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, only roughly 10 percent of former residents have returned. The court decision stated, “(The plaintiffs) have lost their close connections to their local communities over a substantial period of time. Simply lifting evacuation orders will not immediately relieve this suffering,” awarding 36 of the plaintiffs an average of some 3 million yen each. Nevertheless, some of the plaintiffs are not satisfied by the results.