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Family to sue over suicide after Japan tsunami, nuke meltdown

Kuni Takahashi / Kuni Takahashi

An earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear meltdown -- residents of Japan's northeast coast suffered through three intertwined disasters after a massive 9.0 magnitude temblor struck off the coast on March 11, 2011.

The family of a 58-year-old Japanese woman who set herself on fire after the 2011 quake and tsunami will file a lawsuit against the operator of a nuclear plant that went into meltdown after the giant wave hit, local media reports say.

They will seek $910,000 in damages in the death of Hamako Watanabe from the Tokyo Electric Power Co., according to The Japan Times and The Mainichi. They plan to file the lawsuit -- which would be the first over a suicide linked to the nuclear crisis -- on May 18 in Fukushima District Court.

Her husband, Mikio Watanabe, 61, said his wife suffered depression in the aftermath of the accident on March 11, 2011.

The couple lived about 25 miles from the Fukushima power plant and their home had been designated as being within a planned evacuation zone. She killed herself at a garbage incinerator after going back to clean the house in Kawamata, The Japan Times said, citing sources. 

Nearly a year after an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, Fukushima City residents fear the radiation is spreading outside of the government mandated exclusion zone. The government has asked residents to bury radiated soil in their own backyards, but how dangerous is the dirt and where should it go? NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reports.

"The accident changed everything in our lives,” Watanabe told The Mainichi. “I decided to go to court because I thought no more victims should cry themselves to sleep."

The couple had moved around after the 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunamis struck, triggering meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and leaving nearly 16,000 dead.


A 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggers a tsunami, causing enormous damage and killing thousands.

As of last Saturday, Japan had shut down the last of its 50 usable nuclear reactors amid strong opposition from the public and local governments to keeping them up and running, The Associated Press reported.

Tsunami town's fishermen vow to 'bring joy back'

Hamako Watanabe's workplace was shuttered after the tsunami, and she began to show signs of insomnia and had a poor appetite. A group of lawyers representing victims of the nuclear crisis said her depression and suicide were due to the nuclear disaster, The Mainichi reported.

'Can it be the end of nuclear power?' Japan to shut down last reactor

Tepco declined to make comment to the newspapers, though the family notified the utility on April 20 of its intention to file the lawsuit. Tepco said in a letter dated May 1 that it would consider the matter.

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