By Eric Johnston
Wednesday’s decision in favor of the plaintiffs marks the first time a court has ruled that former Tepco management is liable to pay compensation. Three of the five defendants, including Katsumata, former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro, 76, and Vice President Sakae Muto, 72, had already been cleared by the Tokyo District Court of criminal responsibility for the accident in a separate September 2019 ruling.
Court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors appealed the 2019 decision, and a ruling on the appeal is expected to be handed down in January.
The main issue of contention in Wednesday’s verdict centered on the credibility of a long-term government assessment on possible tsunami damage that was published in 2002, and whether the former Tepco managers recognized the possibility of a huge tsunami hitting the plant and then took appropriate measures based on the report’s recommendations.
Plaintiffs argued the assessment was the view of a public agency dealing with disaster prevention, and therefore reliable. They claimed that the former Tepco officials should have been aware in advance of the possibility of a giant tsunami hitting the plant and taken necessary countermeasures before March 11, 2011, but failed to do so.
The defendants, however, argued that the 2002 government assessment was not highly credible and that it was impossible to predict the amount of damage that would occur from a large tsunami. Even if it had been possible to predict the damage, they added, there would not have been enough time to take needed countermeasures.
The ¥22 trillion sought by the plaintiffs is the total amount listed in a December 2016 report by a joint committee put together by Tepco and the economy ministry to determine how much funding should be secured to deal with the accident.
The report said Tepco would need to spend ¥8 trillion to decommission the plant and another ¥8 trillion to compensate the victims. A further ¥6 trillion is needed for decontamination measures and interim nuclear waste storage. All of these costs, the shareholder plaintiffs claim, were expenses the company would not incur had there been no nuclear accident.
But the defendants, as well as Tepco, which is offering support to the defendants, claim that decommissioning the plant had cost about ¥1.56 trillion by the fourth quarter of the fiscal year that began in April 2020. They also argued that compensation, decontamination and interim storage measures were mostly being funded by the government, which limited Tepco’s portion of the bill to around ¥510 billion by the end of fiscal 2020.
However, the utility has also admitted that it still does not know, exactly, how much the final cost will be.
As stipulated in the companies act, shareholders can launch a derivative lawsuit to pursue the responsibility of company board members and others when their actions or failure to act have caused the company damages. When the plaintiff’s claim is accepted in such a lawsuit, damages are paid to the company, not to the shareholders.