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Tepco ordered to compensate in Fukushima suicide case

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant has been ordered to pay thousands in compensation because of a suicide linked to the 2011 meltdown diaster. The ruling could set a precedent for more claims.

A Japanese court ordered the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to pay 49 million yen (357,000 euros) in damages to the family of 58-year-old Hamako Watanabe, who committed suicide after falling into depression following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It was the first time that Tepco has been ordered to compensate for a suicide linked to the atomic accident. The surprise ruling could set a precedent for more claims in connection with the triple nuclear meltown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, north of Tokyo.

In March 2011, an undersea earthquake sparked a huge tsunami that swamped cooling systems at the plant, spewing radiation into the air. More than 150,000 people were forced from their homes, including Watanabe and her husband, Mikio.

Hamako Watanabe doused herself in petrol and set herself on fire in July 2011 after being allowed to temporarily return to her home. Her husband (pictured above holding a photo of his wife) sued Tepco for damages, arguing the forced evacuation was responsible for his wife's depression symptoms.

Blow to Tepco

Mikio Watanabe's lawyers said they were pleased at Tuesday's ruling.

"This was an unqualified victory," the lawyers said in a statement.

"It will have huge implications for the compensation issue on nuclear power in the future."

Tepco said it would study the ruling and work out its response, although it did not say if it would launch an appeal.

"We would like to deeply apologize again for the disruption and concern that the Fukushima Daiichi accident caused to many people, first and foremost the people of Fukushima," Tepco said in a statement.

"We will study the verdict and respond in a sincere way. We pray that Hamako Watanabe has found peace."

The ruling is a blow for Tepco, which was bailed out with taxpayer funds in 2012. On top of the billions of dollars allocated to the clean-up and decommissioning costs of the plant, it had already expected to spend more than $48 billion (36 billion euros) in compensation for the disaster.

jr/ksb (Reuters, AFP)

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