General Electric is facing another Fukushima-related legal battle after property owners and businesses near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant filed a $500 million class-action lawsuit against the US nuclear reactor manufacturer for negligence that led to multiple reactor explosions and meltdowns in March 2011.
Plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in the Massachusetts District Court in Boston on Nov. 17, claim that the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the meltdowns was predictable given regional history and that the explosions were a result of deficiencies in GE-designed reactors.
The nuclear disaster caused large swathes of land to be contaminated, forcing the evacuation of around 160,000 residents, the majority of whom are still unable to return to their homes.
Among the plaintiffs are businesses – most notably clinics and other medical entities, located in parts of the radiation-contaminated area near the nuclear plant, which is currently in the early stages of a 40-year decommissioning plan, which includes the removal of melted nuclear fuel from four devastated reactors.
They claim that the disasters were also a result of cost-cutting measures by GE during the construction of the plant, among them the lopping down of a 35-meter high bluff next to the Pacific coast.
While this made the pumping of seawater to cool the reactors during normal operation easier, it also meant some of the plant’s most crucial safety apparatus were located below sea level. This had “dramatically increased the flood risk,” according to the plaintiffs.
Indeed, the location of those safety apparatus meant they were rendered inoperable by the massive tsunamis that inundated the plant, knocking out all electrical power supplies.
The resulting disaster, which is expected to cost more than $200 billion to clear up, had turned the area around the plant into a ghost town to which nobody will return, the plaintiffs claim.
Fukushima Daiichi was designed and constructed by GE and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and commenced operations in 1971. All of its six reactors were designed by GE, three of them supplied directly by the US multinational conglomerate, which is headquartered in Boston.
From an early stage, GE engineers expressed concerns about the company’s BWR-3 Mark I reactor design – which was also used at Fukushima Daiichi.
The plaintiff also argue that the region in which the plant is located is notoriously quake-prone and experts had long warned of historical evidence that a massive tsunami could strike the coastal area near the plant.
TEPCO was itsef aware of this and had raised the height of its ocean defences to 5.7 meters, though these were easily breached by the 15-meter tsunami that hit the region in March 2011.
The lawsuit follows two other cases this year, both in Japan, against TEPCO and the Japanese government, which resulted in payouts totally almost $5 million to residents who were forced to evacuate their homes by the disasters.
Meanwhile, TEPCO and GE are currently being sued in a U.S. court by around 400 US sailors who claim to have been sickened by radiation that was emitted from the plant and passed over them as they were stationed on boats anchored off the Pacific coast. The sailors, many of whom were part of a 5,000-strong relief team aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, had been taking part in relief operations in the tsunami-affected area.
The Japanese government has been left with egg on its face after the bulk of municipalities in the tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region spurned an exchange program connected to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Just 11 of 127 municipalities in the three prefectures that were worst hit by the March 2011 earthquake have signed up for the Reconstruction “Arigato” Host Town international exchange program, with the 116 that snubbed it saying they were simply too busy focusing on rebuilding their tsunami-wrecked towns.
The Japanese government saw the program as a way to push reconstruction in the region as a central theme for the Tokyo Olympics, which many have seen as little more than an effort to placate those in the region who from the outset were critical of Japan even bidding for the Games.
The idea behind the program was to allow athletes, rescue workers and others who have provided support to the disaster victims to see the ongoing rebuilding programs in the three worst-hit prefectures -- Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.
According to media reports enthusiasm for the project was so muted that government officials were forced to push those municipalities that did eventually agree into participating.
According to one Miyagi resident, who works for a local NPO supporting residents in the devastated region, such projects were merely a show.
"Tens of thousands of Tohoku residents continue to live in temporary homes, without jobs and with financial, health and other problems that are not going to be solved by shaking the hand of an olympic athlete," the official said on condition of anonymity.