Japan Court Rules Against TEPCO in Suicide Case

A Japanese court has ruled the operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant is responsible for the death of a woman who committed suicide after being forced to flee her home following the plant's 2011 disaster.

Japanese media reports said Tuesday the court ordered the Tokyo Electric Power Company to pay $470,000 to the family of Hamako Watanabe, who doused herself in kerosene and set herself on fire after showing signs of depression.

The verdict could lead to other rulings against TEPCO. The company is planning to pay more than $48 billion in compensation for the 2011 earthquake-sparked disaster that forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands who lived near the plant.

In a statement, TEPCO again apologized for the accident and promised to "study the verdict and respond in a sincere way." It added that the company prays that Hamako Watanabe has "found peace."

TEPCO has repeatedly been criticized, both for failing to prevent the disaster and for not being able to contain the subsequent radiation leaks.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 shut off the plant's power and cooling systems, causing a meltdown in three nuclear reactors. It was the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union.

Nearly three-and-a-half years later, officials are still working to stop the plant from spewing radiation into the atmosphere. Engineers say it will take several decades to dismantle the facility.

VOA News / Aug. 27, 2014 08:02 KST