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Fukushima nuke disaster evacuees disappointed by court's compensation award

People take notes as they listen to a lawyer at a gathering following a ruling by the Maebashi District Court on a class action suit brought by Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees, on March 17, 2017. (Mainichi)
Sugie Tanji listens to a lawyer and other plaintiffs at a gathering following a ruling by the Maebashi District Court on a class action suit brought by Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees, on March 17, 2017. (Mainichi)

Fukushima Prefecture evacuees in a class action suit over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster were disappointed by the 38.55 million yen in total compensation awarded on March 17 by the Maebashi District Court, as the amount was just one-fortieth what they had been seeking.

"I was expecting to hear a ruling that would support us more," one of the plaintiffs said after the verdict, which came 3 1/2 years after they filed the suit and six years after the disaster's onset.

"We have made the court recognize the responsibility of the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). I am honestly happy about that," plaintiff Sugie Tanji, 60, said to a gathering following the ruling. However, she continued, "The past six years was filled with many hardships. I wonder if I can convince myself to accept the ruling..."

Tanji was a resident of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her 63-year-old husband Mikio ran a repair business, but orders plunged following the No. 1 plant meltdowns. Four months later, the couple voluntarily evacuated to Gunma Prefecture.

Although Tanji felt guilty for leaving fellow residents behind, she took part in anti-nuclear power rallies and demonstrations in Gunma Prefecture and joined the class action suit, believing that there must never be another nuclear disaster.

Of the 137 plaintiffs from 45 households, representatives of almost all the households appeared in court, testifying to the agony of living as evacuees and expressing their anger toward TEPCO and the central government. However, only a few of them have made their names public out of concern for possible discrimination against their children and negative effects on their jobs. Tanji herself recalls being told, "You can get money if you go to court, can't you?"

Under government guidelines, those who evacuated voluntarily are entitled to only 80,000 yen in consolation money from TEPCO, including living expenses. The plaintiffs thought the amount was far too small considering the pain of losing their hometowns. However, only 62 of the 137 plaintiffs were awarded compensation.

"I was expecting a warmer ruling," said a woman in her 50s who sat in on the March 17 hearing clad in mourning attire. She was working part-time for a company in Iwaki, but was fired after the nuclear disaster impacted the firm's business performance.

This and radiation exposure fears prompted her and her husband to evacuate to Gunma Prefecture two months later. Her husband, however, developed a malignant brain tumor the following year, after the couple settled into an apartment that the Gunma Prefectural Government had rented for evacuees. Her husband died in the fall of 2014 at age 52.

The woman says she still doesn't feel like she can start working and subsists on her savings and survivor's pension. At the end of March, the Fukushima Prefectural Government is set to terminate its housing subsidies for voluntary evacuees. For her, the compensation awarded by the Maebashi District Court was "unimaginably low."

"I can't report the ruling to my husband," she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

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