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The Chiba District Court in Japan has ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, or Tepco, to pay damages to a group of Fukushima prefecture residents who were forced to flee their homes after the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
This is the second damages ruling against the utility, but unlike the first one, which came out in March, the Chiba court ruling did not find the Japanese government guilty of negligence. The court estimated the damages at US$3.36 million (376 million yen). The plaintiffs had asked for US$25 million (2.8 billion yen).
The plaintiffs in the Chiba case claimed that Tepco and the government could have predicted the tsunami resulting from an offshore earthquake that rendered the land around the Fukushima NPP uninhabitable based on a procedure for long-term earthquake assessment that Tokyo announced in 2002. This means they could have taken preventive measures to avoid the disaster.
Tepco is still reeling from the effects of the 2011 tsunami and resulting nuclear meltdown. Around 15,000 people died in March 2011, when the magnitude-9 quake caused a deadly tsunami and erased the coastline in the area of the nuclear power plant. At the end of last year, the Japanese government revised upwards the costs of the disaster to US$192 billion (21.5 trillion yen), stepping up pressure on Tepco to clean up its act and implement urgent reforms to its safety procedures.
Most recently, Japan’s nuclear watchdog urged the company to make a legal pledge to improve its safety procedures, as the utility sought the restarting of two reactors in the country’s largest nuclear plant, Kashiwasaki-Kariwa. This will be a tough job since the governor of the Niigata prefecture where the plant is located is firmly against any nuclear reactor restarts without in-depth inspections that could take years.
This casts a shadow over Tepco’s future, which under a government recovery program is looking for business partners to consolidate its operations. When the plan was announced last year, the reaction from the local business world was less than warm. The latest developments are unlikely to stimulate much enthusiasm either.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.