In Landmark Decision, TEPCO to Pay Victim's Family in Fukushima Suicide Case
Family of Hamako Watanabe, who committed suicide after fleeing Fukushima disaster, awarded $472,000 by court
A Japanese court has ordered the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to pay damages to the family of a woman who killed herself after being forced to flee the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
The court awarded the family of Hamako Watanabe 49 million yen ($472,000) in a case that could influence future outcomes of other victim lawsuits against the nuclear operator, BBC reports.
Watanabe and her husband Mikio were evacuated because of radioactive contamination in June 2011, three months after the failure of several nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant in the Futaba district in Japan. Their home in Kawamata town was about 40 kilometers away from the site of the meltdown, which occurred when a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake triggered a tsunami that flooded cooling systems at the plant, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster in Japan's recent history.
When Watanabe, 58, was allowed to return briefly to the family home after they were moved into an apartment in Fukushima city, she doused herself in gasoline and set herself on fire.
Mikio and the couple's three children sued TEPCO for 91 million yen in damages, on the grounds that the forced evacuation, and subsequent uncertainty about her future, caused her depression. The chicken farm where she and her husband worked also closed, BBC says.
In a statement, TEPCO apologized again to the people of Fukushima, saying it would "examine the ruling and continue to cope with the issue sincerely," according to the Guardian.
TEPCO, which was bailed out with taxpayer funds in 2012 in the wake of the disaster, is expected to spend more than $48 billion in compensation alone, IB Times says.
"We pray that Hamako Watanabe has found peace," the company said.
Roughly 150,000 people were evacuated after the meltdown, approximately one-third of whom remain in temporary housing. Dozens are reported to have killed themselves since the disaster. News this week revealed that Fukushima youth were found to have elevated rates of thyroid cancer.