TOKYO (AP) — A Tokyo court on Wednesday ordered four former executives at the utility behind the tsunami wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant to pay 13 trillion yen ($94 billion) to the company, holding them liable for the 2011 meltdown crisis.
In a high profile ruling, the Tokyo District Court said the former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Tsunehisa Katsumata, and three other former executives failed to fulfil their duty of taking the utmost safety precautions despite knowing the risks of a serious accident in case of a major tsunami. It said they could have prevented the disaster if they had taken available scientific data more seriously and acted sooner.
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami destroyed key cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing its three reactors to melt down, spreading massive radiation in the area and keeping tens of thousands of residents from returning home due to radioactive contamination and safety concerns.
A group of 48 TEPCO shareholders filed the suit in 2012 demanding that Katsumata and four others — former TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu, former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, and another executive, Akio Komori, pay 22 trillion yen ($160 billion) in damages to the company. It maintained that they had neglected to heed experts’ tsunami predictions and failed to take adequate tsunami precaution measures soon enough.
Presiding Judge Yoshihide Asakura said the former TEPCO executives “fundamentally lacked safety awareness and a sense of responsibility.” The ruling noted that TEPCO could have prevented the disaster if it had carried out necessary construction work to prevent the plant’s key areas from being flooded, including making its reactor buildings water-tight.
He said all five were liable but relieved Komori of the compensation obligation because he was appointed to his executive position only a year before the disaster and couldn’t have acted even if he had tried.
Wednesday’s decision to take the plant operators’ obligation to take safety measures more seriously contrasted with a Supreme Court ruling last month that found the government not responsible for paying compensation sought by thousands of Fukushima residents over the loss of their jobs, livelihoods and communities. It said a tsunami of that magnitude was not foreseeable even with the latest available expertise at the time.
The amount of compensation was the highest ever ordered in a lawsuit. It greatly exceeded a 59.4 billion yen ($433 million) compensation order to Olympus Co. over a coverup of losses and an order to sewing machine maker Janome Co. to pay 58 billion yen ($425 million) in damages for losses due to extortion.