Fukushima Operator’s Legal Woes Mounting 

Fukushima Operator’s Legal Woes Mounting Fukushima Operator’s Legal Woes Mounting 

Four and a half years after the Fukushima disaster, and as Japan tentatively restarts nuclear power production elsewhere, legal challenges are mounting for the crippled plant's operator.

Radiation from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 forced 160,000 people from their homes, many never to return, and destroyed businesses, fisheries and agriculture, Reuters reported.

The criminal and civil legal cases do not threaten financial ruin for Tepco, which is now backstopped by Japanese taxpayers and faces far bigger costs to decommission the Fukushima plant and clean up the surrounding areas.

Rather, the cases could further increase opposition to nuclear restarts—which consistently beats support by about two-to-one—as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government pushes to restore nuclear to Japan's energy mix to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuel.

"The nuclear plant disaster has upended our way of life," evacuee and former beekeeper Takahisa Ogawa, 45, testified recently in a court in Iwaki, near the Fukushima power station. "We've lost the support we counted on."

Ogawa and other plaintiffs are seeking $160,000 each in damages from Tepco. More than 10,000 evacuees and nearby residents have brought at least 20 lawsuits against the utility and the government over the handling of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant 220 km north of Tokyo.

"The biggest class action, with 4,000 plaintiffs, seeks to dramatically increase Tepco's liability by proving negligence under Japan's civil law, rather than simply proving harm and seeking compensation," said lead attorney Izutaro Managi.

Japan recently approved increasing the amount of compensation payments through a government-run fund to $56 billion.

The shareholder lawsuit, filed in March 2012, seeks to establish responsibility for the disaster and demands $44 billion in damages from current and former executives. A verdict is not expected for at least a year.

"This is likely to become a long battle where lawsuits go on for several decades or half a century," said Shunichi Teranishi, a professor emeritus of environmental economics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, comparing it to the Minamata mercury poisoning disaster in the 1950s, where lawsuits continue to be filed to this day.