TOKYO -- Japan’s top court on Friday ruled that the government was not liable for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, dismissing thousands of evacuees' demands that the state, not just the utility, pay compensation for the damages inflicted to their lives.
Friday’s ruling was the first Supreme Court decision on the government responsibility for the Fukushima disaster in four compensation lawsuits filed by about 3,700 Fukushima residents.
The four-judge bench headed by Hiroyuki Kanno said that the government could not be held liable for the disaster because damage from the tsunami of that magnitude could not have been prevented even if the industry minister had used his regulatory authority and ordered the utility to enhance a seawall based on a tsunami estimate at that time.
The ruling could affect about 30 other similar lawsuits pending across the country.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered triple meltdowns following the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, spreading massive radiation in the area and displacing more than 160,000 people at one point.
The plaintiffs in the four lawsuits, many of whom are still displaced in and outside of Fukushima, demanded compensation for the loss of livelihoods and communities because of the disaster.
The lawsuits against the government and the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings were originally filed separately in Fukushima and three other prefectures — Gunma, Chiba and Ehime — where the plaintiffs evacuated.
All but one lower court rulings upheld their demands and acknowledged the state responsibility. Currently, only TEPCO is obliged to cover damages worth over 1.4 billion yen ($10 million).
The dispute centered on whether the government could have foreseen the risk of a massive tsunami based on a tsunami prediction report, and whether the accident could have been averted if the government had ordered TEPCO to take precautions.
The attention also focused on the reliability of a long-term assessment of seismic activities released by a government expert panel in 2002, nine years before the accident.
The government argued that the report was not reliable and the accident was unavoidable.
The plaintiffs said the tsunami assessment was credible and the government should have used it as a basis to order the utility to take tsunami prevention measures. They said the disaster could have been avoided if the government had instructed TEPCO properly.