Japan's Supreme Court has ruled that the government was not responsible for the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The ruling handed down on Friday covers four separate damages lawsuits filed by people including those who had to evacuate their homes in Fukushima and three other prefectures. The defendants were the state and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company.
The lawsuits centered on the reliability of a long-term assessment of possible seismic activities issued by a government organization nine years prior to the accident.
The point of contention was whether the state 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 TEPCO to take precautionary measures.
Presiding Justice Kanno Hiroyuki said the earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 was far more powerful than the government could have expected.
Kanno said the ensuing tsunami was also larger than predicted and came from a different direction.
He noted that the flow of a massive volume of seawater into the plant compound could not have been prevented even if the government had ordered TEPCO to take necessary measures.
One of the four justices who deliberated the lawsuits opposed the decision.
As for the liability of TEPCO, the Supreme Court had earlier finalized rulings that ordered the operator to pay compensation to the plaintiffs.
The ruling is the first by the top court on the government's responsibility for the nuclear accident.
It could affect the outcomes of similar lawsuits filed across the country.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs from Fukushima said the ruling was totally unacceptable.
Managi Izutaro criticized the decision as well as the process that led to it for failing to face the damage caused by the nuclear accident.
He argued that the ruling must not affect other lawsuits, and encouraged the plaintiffs to keep fighting to the end.
The plaintiffs and their supporters, who were waiting for the ruling outside the courthouse, appeared shocked and angry at the result.