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The Tokyo district court has ordered four former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to pay JPY13,000 billion ($95bn) in damages to the operator of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi NPP, according to the plaintiff's lawyers. The civil case was brought by 48 Tepco shareholders in 2012 against five former Tepco officials - former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, former President Masataka Shimizu and former Managing Director Akio Komori - the court found all but Komori liable to pay the damages.

The Presiding Judge Yoshihide Asakura ruled that the executives could have prevented the disaster if they had exercised due care.

The ruling said that the utility's countermeasures for the tsunami "fundamentally lacked safety awareness and a sense of responsibility”. It pointed out that the nuclear disaster might not have happened if the management had implemented necessary construction work to prevent the plant's key areas from being flooded.

Three of the five defendants - Katsumata Takekuro and Muto - had already been cleared by the Tokyo District Court of criminal responsibility for the accident in a separate September 2019 ruling.

That criminal case has been appealed and the Tokyo high court is expected to rule on it in January 2023.

The civil lawsuit had demanded that the five former Tepco executives should pay the company JPY22,000 billion in compensation for ignoring warnings of a possible tsunami. The shareholders claimed the company incurred massive losses from the 2011 accident. These include costs for decommissioning the plant's crippled reactors and compensation for local residents who had to evacuate. In response to the verdict, Tepco refrained from comment, saying they did not respond to lawsuits involving individuals

"One accident with a nuclear power plant leads to irreversible damage to both human lives and the environment. The executives of companies that operate such plants also have a huge responsibility on them that is incomparable with other companies," said Yui Kimura, one of the plaintiffs. "I think the court's judgement says that anyone who does not have the determination or capability to take on that responsibility should not become an executive," he told a news conference.

The JPY22,000 billion 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. However, the defendants, as well as Tepco, which is supporting the defendants, say decommissioning the plant had cost about JPY1,560 billion 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 JPY510 billion by the end of fiscal 2020. Tepco admits that it still does not know, exactly, how much the final cost will be.

Image: The plaintiffs of a lawsuit over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster react to the ruling in front of the Tokyo District Court in Japan

Date: Friday, 15 July 2022
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