Japan court to rule on TEPCO execs nuclear crisis liability

Elias Hubbard
September 20, 2019

Three former executives facing five years in jail for professional negligence in the 2011 nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima plant in Japan were found not guilty in a Thursday ruling.

The ruling by the Tokyo District Court ended the only criminal trial related to the nuclear accident that has kept tens of thousands of residents away from their homes because of lingering radiation contamination. The charges against the men are tied to the case of more than 40 hospitalised patients who died after having to be evacuated following the nuclear disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company ex-chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and two other former executives - Sakae Muto, 69, and Ichiro Takekuro, 73 - were found not guilty in a criminal trial where prosecutors accused them of failing to take preventive measures that might have prevented the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following a massive natural disaster and subsequent tsunami.

Lawyers acting as prosecutors said the three executives had access to data and studies anticipating the risk to the area from a tsunami exceeding 10 metres in height that could trigger a power loss and cause a nuclear disaster.

Never miss the latest news from the Star. Without a functioning cooling system, three reactors experienced core meltdowns.

Prosecutors argued that the officials didn't take sufficient measures to protect against the threat of a tsunami.

The prosecutors said that despite such information, the three failed to order a higher embankment to be built around the plant site or halt operations, as they were more concerned about the adverse effects such actions would have on TEPCO's balance sheet.

The ruling on the case is the culmination of actions that go back to June 2012 when residents of Fukushima Prefecture submitted criminal complaints against TEPCO executives and central government officials in an effort to determine their criminal responsibility for the nuclear accident.

Judge Nagafuchi ruled that to hold the executives responsible for criminal negligence the prosecuting lawyers had to prove it was possible to predict tsunamis.

The acquittal disappointed dozens of Fukushima residents and their supporters observing the ruling in the courtroom.

The decision is likely to be appealed, extending the legal wrangling over responsibility for the disaster, more than eight years after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Defence attorneys told the court that the tsunami prediction was not well established.

Katsumata apologized "to the people for causing tremendous trouble" in a statement released by his lawyer. TEPCO is struggling with massive amounts of treated but still radioactive water that is stored in 1,000 tanks on the compound, hampering the cleanup work.

The prosecution argued that as far back as 2002, the bosses had been warned that a large tsunami of more than 15 metres could hit the plant, but had chosen to ignore the evidence - and had not increased their defences.

The prosecutors argued that the three former executives chose to overlook much of the information they were party to on numerous occasions, citing as a typical case the estimate by the TEPCO subsidiary.

It was unclear if they could have completed preventive measures in time for the tsunami.

Government and parliamentary investigations said TEPCO's lack of a safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimation of tsunami risks, led to the disaster. They said TEPCO colluded with regulators to disregard tsunami protection measures.

In 2016, the Government estimated the total cost of plant dismantling, decontamination of affected areas and compensation would be 21.5 trillion yen ($293 billion), or about a fifth of Japan's annual budget.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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