TEPCO must pay family of woman who vanished in Fukushima crisis

A court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 22 million yen ($216,000) in compensation to the family of an 88-year-old woman with dementia who disappeared after the Fukushima nuclear crisis unfolded in 2011.

(Article by Asahi Shimbun)

The woman, who was a patient at a hospital near TEPCO’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was never seen again.

“Staff at her hospital continued to keep a sufficient watch over her even after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck, and her disappearance could have been avoided if the nuclear accident had not occurred,” Presiding Judge Yuko Mizuno said in her ruling on Aug. 10 at the Tokyo District Court.

The court ruling is the first to acknowledge a causal relation between the disappearance of an individual and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant that started on March 11, 2011, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

The woman’s family sought 44 million yen in compensation.

“I am relieved that the case has been resolved,” the woman’s 84-year-old brother, who is one of the plaintiffs, said.

The woman had been hospitalized for dementia at Futaba Hospital in Okuma, a town that co-hosts the nuclear complex.

Staff members confirmed she was at the hospital until March 14, two days after Okuma residents were ordered to evacuate.

But when members of the Self-Defense Forces rushed to the site and completed the relocation of hospital inpatients on March 16, the woman was missing.

A subsequent search failed to find her, and her body has not been found. She was legally declared dead in September 2013, a year after her family reported her disappearance.

TEPCO argued that “the confusion stemming from the quake and tsunami is primarily responsible for her disappearance, not the nuclear accident.”

But the court rejected that argument.

“The director and staff members took extra care to keep her from going out accidentally because she had a tendency to wander around,” the ruling said. “They could have continued to pay attention to her if they had not been forced to evacuate because of the nuclear accident.”

The court said the woman “is believed to have died after continuing to loiter in the area after people vacated the site.”

Following the court’s decision, TEPCO released a statement that said, “We will examine the details of the ruling and continue to make a sincere response.”

The woman was a patient at the hospital for four-and-a-half years, and her brother visited her every month.

Her family held her funeral in 2014 without her remains.

“If her remains are found, we will hold a proper burial,” the brother said.

(This article was compiled from reports by Odaka Chiba and Mana Nagano.)

Read more at: asahi.com