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Japanese Court Orders Millions in Payments After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

FILE - A worker collects contaminated items for disposal at a private home in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, Feb. 24, 2016.

A Japanese court has ordered millions of dollars in payments to thousands of residents living near the Fukushima nuclear plant after they lost their homes and livelihoods during the 2011 radiation crisis caused by a tsunami.

The court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which ran the Fukushima plant, to pay $4.5 million to 3,800 plaintiffs after it said the company failed to make safety improvements, even though leaders there knew the risk a massive tsunami would pose to the plant.

The ruling marks the end of the biggest class action lawsuit so far stemming from the nuclear plant disaster. Dozens of similar lawsuits involving 12,000 people are still pending.

The court supported the plaintiffs’ argument that the disaster could have been avoided had TEPCO moved the emergency diesel generators located in its basement to a higher spot and made its reactor buildings water tight, based on a 2002 study that recommended those changes.

The 2011 tsunami damaged the cooling system for the nuclear reactor and flooded backup generators that could have kept the plant functional after it was hit by a massive wave that followed an earthquake.

Nuclear Regulation Authority spokesman Kazuhiro Okuma reacted to the court ruling by saying he was unsure whether the government would appeal the decision.

The ruling follows a similar March court decision that forced the government and TEPCO to pay $336,000 to 62 former Fukushima residents. In another ruling last month, a court ordered TEPCO to pay $3.4 million to around 45 former Fukushima residents.