Law360, Washington (November 20, 2017, 6:24 PM EST) — Residents and companies of Fukushima, Japan, on Friday filed a putative class action lawsuit against General Electric Co. in Massachusetts federal court, accusing the company of negligence that led to a catastrophic meltdown when a 2011 tsunami hit a nuclear power plant it built.
The lawsuit called the earthquake and tsunami predictable given regional history and said that foreseeable, long-known vulnerabilities led to the meltdown of the coastal reactors that forced roughly 150,000 people from a largely still uninhabitable area. It cited design errors including a 60-foot lowering of a protective coastal cliff, defectively designed cooling systems and key meltdown-mitigating equipment located in basements that predictably flooded.
TEPCO has paid out more than $67 billion to affected residents in various cases and the Japanese government has also been found liable for failing to enforce regulations despite several warnings of the risk that a quake or tsunami posed. But the suit said that unlike the “ruined” TEPCO, which is also being sued by U.S. Navy rescue personnel over radiation exposure, no one has held the company that built the reactors accountable.
According to the complaint, GE took a cost-saving shortcut while building three reactors and overseeing construction of the rest by including smaller, less safe containment vessels. It suggested that and other shortcuts allowed GE to slash costs and sell dozens of its plants around the world in the 1960s and dominate the commercial nuclear power industry at the expense of safety.
The suit cited a 1961 comment from a GE CEO that “we are going to ram this nuclear thing through” and said that GE exerted political pressure to get the world and regulators to embrace its design. It also said that at least by the mid-1960s, experts knew the plant design was “fatally defective and unsafe,” but GE sold TEPCO on the design in 1967.
The complaint also cited three past accidents at GE-built plants in Japan in 1981, 1997 and 1999 that exposed hundreds of workers to radiation. It also alleged failure to warn residents and other interested parties of the risks associated with the operation of the power plant.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Named plaintiffs include a physician, surgeon, internal medicine clinic, obstetrics and gynecology clinic, retail and dining hall operator, dried sweet potato product manufacturer, surgical clinic, medical clinic operator and resident who owned much of a Fukushima wetsuit manufacturer.
Plaintiffs are represented by Timothy P. Frawley of the Law Offices of Timothy P. Frawley, John Donboli of Donboli Law Group APC, and Bonnie L. Dixon of Atsumi & Sakai.
Counsel information for GE was not immediately available on Monday.
The case is Shinya Imamura et al. v. General Electric Co. and Does 1-100, inclusive, case number 1:17-cv-12278, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.