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A Tokyo court Wednesday ordered former executives from the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant involved in the 2011 disaster to pay around 13 trillion yen ($94.8 billion) in damages, local media said.
Four ex-bosses of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) were ordered to pay the damages in a suit brought by shareholders over the nuclear disaster triggered by a massive tsunami.
Plaintiffs emerged from the Tokyo court holding banners reading "shareholders win" and "responsibility recognised."
Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing shareholders, said when the suit was filed that senior managers at TEPCO must be made to pay.
"Warnings have to be issued that, if you make wrong decisions or do wrong, you must compensate with your own money," he told a press conference in 2012.
"You may have to sell your house. You may have to spend your retirement years in misery. In Japan, nothing can be resolved and no progress can be made without assigning personal responsibility."
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The shareholders argued that the disaster could have been prevented if TEPCO bosses had listened to research and carried out preventative measures like placing an emergency power source on higher ground.
But officials argued the studies they were presented were not credible and risks could not have been predicted.
In a statement read to AFP by a TEPCO spokesman, the firm said: "we again express our heartfelt apology to people in Fukushima and members of the society broadly for causing trouble and worry" with the disaster.
But it declined to comment on the ruling, including whether there would be any appeal.
Three of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's six reactors were operating when a massive undersea quake triggered a devastating tsunami on March 11, 2011.
They went into meltdown after their cooling systems failed when waves flooded backup generators.
The accident was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and prompted the declaration of an evacuation zone around the plant.
Tens of thousands of residents around the Fukushima plant were ordered to evacuate their homes, or chose to do so.
Around 12 percent of the Fukushima region was once declared unsafe but no-go zones now cover around two percent, although populations in many towns remain far lower than before.
TEPCO has been pursued in the courts by survivors of the disaster as well as shareholders, and six plaintiffs this year took the firm to court over claims they developed thyroid cancer because of radiation exposure.
In 2019, a court acquitted three former TEPCO officials in the only criminal trial to stem from the disaster.
They had faced up to five years in prison if convicted of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, but the court ruled that they could not have predicted the scale of the tsunami that triggered the disaster.
TEPCO is currently engaged in a decades-long effort to decommission the plant, a costly and difficult process.
No one was killed in the nuclear meltdown, but the tsunami left 18,500 dead or missing.
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