Japan's top court to rule on compensation for Fukushima evacuees

Japan's Supreme Court will hand down a ruling on Friday on four damages suits filed by people who had to evacuate because of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

The ruling will be the first judgement by the country's top court on the government's responsibility for the nuclear accident.

The four lawsuits were originally filed separately in Fukushima, Gunma, Chiba and Ehime prefectures against the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company.

The main issue is the reliability of a long-term assessment of seismic activities released by a government expert panel in 2002, nine years prior to the accident.

The dispute centers on whether the government could have foreseen the risk of a massive tsunami based on this report, and whether the accident could have been avoided if the government had ordered Tokyo Electric Power to take precautionary measures.

The plaintiffs claim that the assessment was credible and the government should have instructed the utility to take measures against tsunamis based on it. They say the accident could have been avoided if the government had properly instructed the utility.

The government argues that the report was not reliable and the accident was unavoidable.

If the Supreme Court finds the government responsible, it will be obliged to share the payment of damages worth over 1.4 billion yen, or roughly 10 million dollars, with Tokyo Electric. The amount of compensation has already been finalized.

The ruling could affect the outcomes of 29 similar lawsuits filed across the country, and could also influence the debate on how to compensate the evacuees.