Lawsuit claims Tepco misled scale of 2011 Fukushima disaster, causing relief workers to be exposed to radiation.
Tokyo Electrical Power Company Holdings Inc., (often shortened to Tepco) announced on 24 August that a group of 157 U.S. residents, including military personnel, had filed a lawsuit in a California federal court, seeking damages of US$5 billion (around 548 billion yen). The personnel were all part of the U.S. military’s relief efforts that involved the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and other ships of the Seventh fleet being sent to the affected area only two days after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that shocked the world.
The relief workers delivered supplies and helped those whose homes and lives had been devastated on March 11, 2011, and as such may have been been in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear reactors Nos. 1, 2 and 3; the meltdown of which caused radiation to be released into the surrounding area. It was reported at the time that the fleet took an alternative route to Sendai city because of low-level radiation, and 17 sailors and their three helicopters were decontaminated after being exposed.
▼ U.S. personnel delivered food and water to those affected by the disaster.
The plaintiffs assert that Tepco is at fault because of improper design and running of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
This isn’t the first time U.S. military personnel have sued Tepco. In March 2013, a group of 239 sailors and other personnel filed against Tepco in a San Diego court; a lawsuit that is yet to be resolved and with which the 157 men and women of this week’s lawsuit hope to combine forces.
Japanese social media users (who, as taxpayers, might be called upon to again bail-out the part-nationalised company) were by and large fairly disparaging of the news, particularly given the amount of compensation being asked for. Some questioned why the U.S. Navy personnel were suing Tepco rather than the U.S. military for sending them there, despite knowing the risks. They also drew attention to the irony of the name of the operation at the heart of the lawsuit, Operation Tomodachi (the Japanese word for friend) with one suggesting that a more appropriate name might have been Operation Katsuage (Operation Shakedown).
Another user worked out that should Tepco and an additional U.S. company (as yet unnamed in Tepco’s statement) be found liable, and forced to pay the full amount sought, that would equate to more than $33 million per plaintiff, although the lawsuit states that the money would be used to set up a fund that would cover medical expenses, in addition to compensation for alleged physical and mental damage caused by the disaster.
According to Tepco, the company has yet to receive documents relating to the court case and will announce how it intends to respond at that juncture. It is also as yet unclear whether this is the same group of plaintiffs who were cleared to file a suit by a federal appeals court in June, but between these, a record-breaking $67 billion lawsuit by Tepco shareholders and the currently-estimated $150 billion cost of decontaminating the Fukushima plant and its surrounds, Tepco still has a long way to go to finish paying the financial costs of the 2011 meltdown.