A local court ruled on Friday that the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) were liable for negligence in the Fukushima disaster six years ago.
The Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture, central Japan, ruled that the central government and TEPCO shall pay a total of 38.55 million yen (340,000 U.S. dollars) in damages to 137 people who fled from Fukushima since the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The 137 plaintiffs have sought 11 million yen (97,100 U.S. dollars) each in compensation for their mental sufferings and loss of livelihood since fleeing from their hometown.
The plaintiffs claimed that the Japanese government should have foreseen the tsunami based on a government estimate in 2002 that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8-level earthquake occurring within the next 30 years.
The government had issued a "long-term" warning over the possible huge earthquake, and TEPCO also estimated in 2008 that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could happen if such a huge earthquake occurred, said the plaintiffs.
The government and TEPCO, however, denied the possibility of foreseeing such a disaster.
The court ruled that the government should have used its regulatory power over TEPCO to take preventive measures in light of previous predictions of huge earthquakes and tsunamis in the area.
It would have been easy for TEPCO to prepare some emergency power sources in high places to prevent the disaster, said the court ruling.
A series of group lawsuits have been filed in 18 different prefectures in Japan by refugees from Fukushima.
It was the first time that a court recognized the state's liability for the 2011 disaster, and might impact later court rulings on other cases, according to lawyers of the plaintiffs.
A magnitude-9.0 earthquake in 2011 triggered a massive tsunami which destroyed the emergency power and then the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and caused a serious nuclear disaster, forcing some 300,000 people to evacuate.
Six years on, there are still some 120,000 people living as refugees due to the disaster, including 80,000 from Fukushima, according to government data.