Executives In Fukushima nuclear disaster deserve 5-year prison terms, prosecutors say — NPR

” The former chairman and two vice presidents of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. should spend five years in prison over the 2011 flooding and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese prosecutors say, accusing the executives of failing to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe.

Prosecutors say the TEPCO executives didn’t do enough to protect the nuclear plant, despite being told in 2002 that the Fukushima facility was vulnerable to a tsunami. In March of 2011, it suffered meltdowns at three of its reactors, along with powerful hydrogen explosions.

“It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly,” prosecutors said on Wednesday, according to The Asahi Shimbun. “That led to the deaths of many people.”

Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78; former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro, 72; and former Vice President Sakae Muto, 68, face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Muto and Takekuro once led the utility’s nuclear division. All three have pleaded not guilty in Tokyo District Court, saying they could not have predicted the tsunami.

The stricken plant triggered mandatory evacuations for thousands of people. Prosecutors link 44 deaths to the incident, including a number of hospital patients who were forced to leave their facilities.

The sentencing recommendation came as prosecutors made their closing arguments on WedneTsday, more than two years after the executives were initially indicted.

The next step in the case will see a lawyer for victims and their families speak in court on Thursday. But it won’t be until March of 2019 that defense lawyers will deliver their closing arguments, according to Japan’s NHK News.

Hinting at what the defense’s argument might be, NHK cites the prosecutors saying, “the former executives later claimed that they had not been informed, and that the executives put all the blame on their subordinates.”

The case has taken a twisting journey to arrive at this point. In two instances, public prosecutors opted not to seek indictments against the three TEPCO executives. But an independent citizen’s panel disagreed, and in early 2016, prosecutors in the case — all court-appointed lawyers — secured indictments against the three former TEPCO leaders.

Both TEPCO and the Japanese government lost a class-action lawsuit in late 2017, when a court found that officials had not prepared enough for potential disaster at the Fukushima power plant. In that case, the Fukushima district court ordered payments totaling nearly $4.5 million to about 3,800 plaintiffs.

All told, around 19,000 people are estimated to have died in eastern Japan’s triple disaster that included a powerful earthquake off the coast of Tohoku, a devastating tsunami, and the worst nuclear meltdown since the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986.

In September, Japan’s government announced the first death due to radiation that was released at the Fukushima plant.

The region is still sharply feeling the results of the calamity. As of late November, more than 30,000 people who fled the area had still not returned, Kyodo News reports. ”

by Bill Chappell, NPR

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Proving negligence in Tepco case daunting — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” On July 31, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution announced its decision that former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and two other former company executives “should be indicted” in connection with the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.

In this case the “will of the people” has spoken to counter the prosecutor’s decision not to indict, but proving culpable negligence in an accident associated with a natural disaster will be difficult. The prosecution’s designated lawyer is expected to face an uphill battle to convict the three men.

Concrete recognition

“The decision clearly states that [TEPCO] should’ve been able to foresee the onslaught of the tsunami,” said Hiroyuki Kawai, lawyer for the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, at a press conference held in Tokyo following the decision to indict. “The prospects for the trial are bright.”

The inquest committee and the prosecution, however, are far apart over whether the three individuals accused could “foresee” the likelihood of a massive tsunami and the ensuing disaster.

In 2008, TEPCO published the results of preliminary calculations that predicted a maximum credible tsunami of 15.7 meters based on a long-term assessment by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office concluded that establishing “foreseeability” meant more concrete evidence was needed beyond a vague foreboding of danger or anxiety, deemed that TEPCO’s preliminary tsunami reports couldn’t be regarded as having the scholarly persuasiveness necessary and denied foreseeability on the part of the company’s former officers and others.

The inquest committee, made up of 11 members of the public, responded that “it is sufficient that there must be foreseeability given the fact that a tsunami occurred and some sort of response was required.”

The committee stressed that the three individuals accused had a duty to exercise a high degree of care to prevent accidents since they all held positions of responsibility, and that the maximum credible tsunami report “absolutely could not be ignored.”

‘A certain extent’

Nevertheless, a big hurdle must be cleared to prove criminal responsibility for negligence when accidents occur.

“Jurists and the general public look at foreseeability and the duty to exercise care differently,” one veteran judge noted. “Proving foreseeability could be difficult to prove on the basis of preliminary tsunami calculations.”

In the JR Fukuchiyama Line derailment accident in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, three successive presidents of West Japan Railway Co. were subjected to mandatory indictment on a charge of corporate manslaughter.

The inquest committee for the case, which is currently under appeal, said, “Even in the most basic civic sense, stringent safety measures should obviously be taken as quickly as possible.”

Yet at the trial and the first appeal, the court ruled the three were not guilty as the three successive presidents could not have foreseen the accident.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was caused by a natural phenomenon that would have been difficult to predict, making the charge even more of a challenge to prove.

“The purpose of criminal law is to pursue the responsibility of individuals,” said Tokai University Prof. Yoshihiko Ikeda, who specializes in criminal-negligence theory. “In terms of large-scale accidents related to disasters, senior management can be held responsible for negligence only to a certain extent.”

Choice of words

Now that a decision to indict has been made, the Tokyo District Court chose Friday three designated lawyers for the prosecution who will carry out supplementary investigations. The three accused might be subjected to mandatory indictment by the end of the year at the earliest.

All eyes are on what TEPCO’s former executives will say in court regarding the unprecedented accident.

Lawyer Motoharu Furukawa, a former prosecutor and author of books like “Fukushima gempatsu, sabakarenai de ii no ka” (Is it right to not take the Fukushima nuclear power plant to court?), published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc., says: “It’s of great importance that this be delved into publicly in court. It may even lead to a rethinking of nuclear power safety policy.”

Why did a major disaster that led to reactor meltdowns take place? Was there no way the accident could have been prevented?

Aside from the question of criminal responsibility, Katsumata and his associates need to present the full truth in court.

Doubts over system

The mandatory-indictment system was instituted in May 2009 so the “will of the people” would be reflected in judgments over whether or not to indict, judgments that hitherto had been the sole preserve of prosecutors.

While there is praise for the fact that, with this system in mind, prosecutors have become more cautious in deciding not to indict, a string of cases that used mandatory indictment have nevertheless ended in acquittals, exposing certain problems in the system.

First of all, the mandatory indictment system provides no opportunity for those under inquest to present their side of the story.

The Law for the Inquest of Prosecution makes it mandatory for a prosecutor to present the case prior to any decision to indict, but the accused forced into a public trial through a mandatory indictment has no opportunity to contest the charges beforehand.

“Would it not be a good idea to consider hearing the side of those under indictment, even if just to maintain the fairness of the inquest?” said Yasuyuki Takai, a lawyer who was involved in designing the system.

Then there’s the fact that the role of “inquest assistant,” which gives legal advice to the inquest committee, is limited to a single individual. A lawyer is appointed as inquest assistant, who responds to queries from the committee members.

Yukio Yamashita, a lawyer who has experience as an inquest assistant, pointed out that for a single individual “explaining legal arguments to the general public is difficult.”

“For a truly adequate inquest multiple assistants would be necessary,” Yamashita said.

Another problematic point is how the designated lawyer bears an excessive burden.

Proving guilt in a case where the prosecution has chosen not to indict is difficult — the maximum compensation paid to a designated lawyer for a single trial or appeal is ¥1.2 million.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is said to be planning to submit an opinion calling for improvements to the mandatory-indictment system this year to the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry.

The system must be revised if it is to live up to its original goal, it seems. ”

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Three former executives to be prosecuted in Fukushima nuclear disaster — The New York Times; The Japan Times

The New York Times:

” TOKYO — In the first criminal prosecutions of officials connected to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster of 2011, the Japanese authorities said on Friday that they would move forward with cases against three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the plant where reactors melted down after a devastating tsunami.

The move was a victory for citizens’ groups that have been pursuing charges against dozens of officials at Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, and the government, with no success until now. Prosecutors had twice rejected requests to indict the three former Tepco executives, but a review board overruled their decision on Friday and ordered that charges be brought.

“We had given up hope that there would be a criminal trial,” said Ruiko Muto, an opponent of nuclear power who leads the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, an umbrella organization representing about 15,000 people, including residents displaced by the accident and their supporters. “We’ve finally gotten this far.”

Tens of thousands of people who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant have been separated from their homes since the meltdowns at three of the facility’s reactors, which spread radiation across a wide area. Evacuation orders have been lifted in some parts of the affected zone, but many former residents are still reluctant to return, because they fear for their health or because they no longer have jobs to support them there.

It is rare for prosecutors’ discretion over indictments to be challenged in Japan. The reversal was ordered by a panel of 11 private citizens, convened through a rarely used feature of the Japanese legal system that allows outsiders to review prosecutors’ decisions under certain circumstances.

It was the second time that such a panel, known as a committee for the inquest of prosecution, had determined that the former executives should be prosecuted. The first panel delivered its conclusion last year, after the Tokyo district prosecutors’ office rejected a criminal complaint against the executives filed by the plaintiffs group.

The prosecutors declined to act on the first panel’s recommendation, but the plaintiffs group appealed, and a second and final panel was convened. Under the rules governing the review panels, the second panel’s decision is binding on prosecutors.

The three executives who face indictment are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, the chairman of Tepco at the time of the accident, and two former heads of the utility’s nuclear division, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69. The review panel ordered that they be charged with professional negligence resulting in death.

Tokyo Electric Power declined to comment on the panel’s decision.

Though the indictments represent a long-sought symbolic achievement for the antinuclear movement, the likelihood that the men will be found guilty at trial may be low. When Japanese prosecutors bring charges on their own initiative, they win convictions more than 99 percent of the time, but cases forced on them by citizens’ review panels are different. Almost by definition, they involve charges that prosecutors saw little hope of proving.

Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor who is now an attorney in private practice, said a large majority of such cases result in not guilty verdicts. To convict the Tokyo Electric Power executives, prosecutors would have to prove that their failure to predict the massive tsunami that struck Fukushima’s coast in March 2011, and to equip the power plant with sufficient protections against it, constituted an act of criminal oversight.

Even proving that the meltdowns killed people could be difficult, he said. A number of deaths have been linked to the evacuation, mostly of elderly nursing home and hospital patients whose weakened conditions made them vulnerable to being moved under chaotic circumstances, but the accident did not result in deaths from radiation poisoning.

“This is a very unusual case,” Mr. Gohara said. “The hurdles to conviction are high.” ”

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The Japan Times:

” Three former top executives at Tokyo Electric Power Co. are set to be hauled into court over their alleged responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution voted Friday that Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tepco at the time of the disaster, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, should be indicted for professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The announcement by the panel of citizens came more than four years after the massive tsunami of March 11, 2011, knocked out the critical cooling functions at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, leading to three of the six reactors there melting down.

Prosecutors have twice previously decided not to seek such indictments, saying Tepco could not have expected such a massive tsunami to hit the nuclear plant and cripple its critical safety systems.

But on Friday the committee overrode the prosecutors’ decisions for a second time, which will lead to a compulsory indictment of the three Tepco executives. They were all responsible for major disaster prevention planning.

Holding a news conference at the Tokyo District Court, representatives of a group of Fukushima residents and others who have filed criminal complaints against the executives said they were elated.

“I want (the Tepco executives) to tell the truth” during the upcoming trials, said Ruiko Muto.

Muto said many elderly people who evacuated from the radiation-contaminated areas have since died in shelters away from their hometowns, while numerous people still living in Fukushima are being exposed to radiation via contaminated materials from the heavily damaged plant.

Muto said many people outside the prefecture have the impression that the nuclear crisis is over.

“If who should be held responsible is not made clear, (the dead) victims won’t rest in peace,” she added.

Before the catastrophe, Tepco had conducted simulations and concluded that critical facilities at Fukushima No. 1 would be flooded and critically damaged if a major earthquake struck off the Tohoku coast and tsunami of more than 10 meters in height hit the plant.

But prosecutors concluded that it was impossible for Tepco to predict such gigantic tsunami would actually hit the plant, as opinions from quake experts were not established regarding the possibility of such a powerful quake.

The judicial review committee said the Tepco executives were obliged to prepare for a worst-case scenario even if the possibility of such a disaster was considered very small.

The simulations provided a good indication that a major crisis was possible, but the three neglected their obligation to prepare for such an eventuality, the committee concluded in a 30-page document explaining its decision.

The panel pointed out that 44 patients who were forced to evacuate from a hospital located 4.5 km from Fukushima No. 1 died after their health conditions deteriorated because of the move. The committee alleged that their deaths were caused by the meltdown crisis.

Meanwhile, no health damage has so far been confirmed to have been caused by radiation from contaminated materials released from the plant.

The committee said one person who was exposed to radiation from contaminated materials has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but a causal link with the meltdown disaster has not been established.

The central government is preparing to allow the reactivation of some commercial reactors suspended in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

Muto said she hopes the findings in the upcoming trials will prompt a change in the national nuclear policy and lead to the abolition of all nuclear power plants. ”

source