The government of Japan is liable for the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, a Japanese court ruled on Friday (17 March) and ordered the government and the plant operator to pay damages to the evacuees.

The Maebashi district court near Tokyo ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) to pay ¥38.6m (£270,000) to 137 people, court authorities said.

The amount that they were ordered to pay, however, was far below the ¥1.5bn sought by the 137 plaintiffs.

The judgement on Friday is the first time that the government was held liable for the disaster even though many other lawsuits were filed in connection to other aspects of the disaster.

The court in its ruling said that the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented if government regulators had ordered Tepco to take preventive steps. The government argued that the damaging power of the earthquake could not have been predicted.

"The government is authorised to order (Tepco) to take such measures and it was possible to prevent the accident," the court said.

A huge tsunami due to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan's northeastern coast in March 2011.

The water affected the cooling systems of the reactor and three went into meltdown, emitting radiation over a vast area, triggering the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Over 10,000 people fled the area in fears of radiation and several others have filed lawsuits against Tepco and the government.

Japan Fukushima anniversary
Decontamination workers observe a moment of silence to mourn victims of the Fukushima nuclear disasterKyodo via Reuters