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article imageFukushima: TEPCO admits link between nuclear disaster and suicide

By Robert Myles     Jun 7, 2013 in World
Fukushima - TEPCO, who managed Fukushima nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by the tsunami which struck Japan’s east coast on March 11 2011, has acknowledged for the first time a link between the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the suicide of a local farmer.
The Japanese utility company Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which owns the Fukushima plant, has reached an amicable settlement with the family of Hisashi Tarukawa, a 64-year-old farmer from Fukushima prefecture who was discovered hanging from a tree in one of his fields 10 days after the tsunami struck. The massive tsunami smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant causing extensive damage to four of the power station’s six reactors and raising the prospect of nuclear meltdowns.
The reason given for Tarukawa taking his own life was a decision by Japanese authorities to ban the sale of certain agricultural produce from the Fukushima region, fearing radioactive contamination.
According to the Tarukawa family lawyers, the case marks the first time that TEPCO have acknowledged that there existed a causal link between the Fukushima nuclear accident and a person deciding to commit suicide. The amount of compensation paid by TEPCO remains undisclosed.
Quoted in the Japan Times, Kazuya Tarukawa, son of the suicide victim said, “I just didn’t want Tepco to keep saying no one was killed because of the nuclear accident.” He expressed the hope that the company’s officials would now apologise for the death of his father, continuing, “Does Tepco think everything is finished if money is paid? I want them to come to my house under the name of the company and bow to my father’s altar.”
According to the Tarukawa family lawyer, an apology is unlikely since companies facing the possibility of class actions are often reluctant to issue apologies in case that approach is interpreted as an admission of their liability.
Despite TEPCO’s reluctance to commit to any public announcement on the Tarukawa case, the company’s litigation problems may only just be starting. The Tarukawa precedent opens up the possibility of further claims emerging. Even though no direct deaths have yet been attributed to the escape of radiation from Fukushima, Japanese authorities have admitted that dozens of former residents from the area around Fukushima have lost their lives due to deterioration of their living conditions. Japan Today reports the Japanese government having released statistics showing that, up to December 2012, 80 suicides could be linked to the nuclear disaster.
But claims arising from suicides are not the only ones faced by TEPCO. Earlier this week, Japan’s Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center, which was established to assist Fukushima victims negotiate with TEPCO, issued another judgement which could mean TEPCO having to fork out in thousands of cases. In the earlier case the Dispute Resolution Center ordered TEPCO to make payments of 500,000 yen (about $5000) to a group of 180 residents from Iitate in Fukushima prefecture 30 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant for emotional distress. Pregnant women and children under 18 at the time of the Fukushima disaster were awarded 1 million yen each. In the Iitate case, residents of the area were not told to evacuate until one month after disaster struck when radiation levels in their home area were found to be unacceptably high. Iatate is by no means the only affected area where evacuation was delayed and it seems likely that TEPCO will face further claims from other affected municipalities.
But a word of warning for potential Fukushima claimants: yesterday the Japan Daily Press highlighted that the claims of Fukushima evacuees enjoy no special exemption in terms of Japan’s Civil Code which lays down a 3 year time limit for compensation claims. Japanese Upper House member Hiroyuki Arai, who is also secretary-general of the New Renaissance Party, estimated that over 11,000 families affected by Fukushima have yet to file claims. Unless such claims are filed before March 11, 2014, they will be time barred by the statute of limitations and families’ rights to compensation will be lost.
More about fukushima disaster, Japanese tsunami, radiation contamination, Nuclear power, Fukushima victims
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