Japan's top court orders damages for Fukushima victims in landmark decision -NHK

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A worker wearing a protective suit and a mask take photograph at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Tomohiro Ohsumi

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TOKYO, March 4 (Reuters) - Japan's Supreme Court upheld an order for utility Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) (9501.T) to pay damages of 1.4 billion yen ($12 million) to about 3,700 people whose lives were devastated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the first decision of its kind.

Public broadcaster NHK said the average payout of about 380,000 yen ($3,290) for each plaintiff covered three class-action lawsuits, among more than 30 against the utility, which are the first to be finalised.

A massive tsunami unleashed by an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 off Japan's northeastern coast, struck Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi power plant in March 2011, to cause the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

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About 470,000 people were forced to evacuate in the first few days, and tens of thousands have not yet been able to return.

Friday's decision came as the court rejected an appeal by Tepco and ruled it negligent in taking preventive measures against a tsunami of that size, the broadcaster said.

The court withheld a verdict on the role of the government, which is also a defendant in the lawsuits, and will hold a hearing next month to rule on its culpability, NHK added.

Lower courts have split over the extent of the government's responsibility in foreseeing the disaster and ordering steps by Tepco to prevent it.

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Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Clarence Fernandez

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