TOKYO — Some 1,400 people filed a joint lawsuit Thursday against three companies that manufactured Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, saying they should be financially liable for damage caused by its 2011 meltdowns.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that the lawsuit, filed at Tokyo District Court, is a landmark challenge of current regulations that give manufacturers immunity from liability in nuclear accidents. Under the Japanese nuclear damages compensation scheme, only the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has been held responsible for the accident, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
The plaintiffs, which include 38 Fukushima residents and nearly 400 others from around the world, said that manufacturers — Toshiba, GE and Hitachi — failed to make needed safety improvements to the 4-decade-old reactors at the Fukushima plant. They are seeking compensation of 100 yen ($1) each, saying the idea is to raise awareness of the problem.
All three companies declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Akihiro Shima, a head lawyer for the group, said that the nuclear plant manufacturers so far had not been held responsible "and their names are not even mentioned." The lawsuit is intended to bring attention to the problems of the system that is also protecting the nuclear industry around the world, he said.
Several accident investigation reports, including one published by the parliament-appointed panel, have generally agreed that that tsunami was the primary cause of the disaster, but also criticized TEPCO's underestimation of tsunami damage and collusion between regulators and the industry.
The Fukushima plant has largely stabilized since the accident, but continues to struggle with massive amounts of contaminated water leaks from the wrecked reactors, into the Pacific Ocean. The decommissioning of four reactors, including three with melted cores, is unprecedented in terms of its extent and complexity, and could take decades.
The four reactors all started operation in the 1970s. Unit 1, 3 and 4 was built by GE, Toshiba and Hitachi respectively, while Unit 2 was a GE-Toshiba joint project.