Former TEPCO executives to be tried for Fukushima negligence

Three former TEPCO executives — Tsunehisa Katsumata (ex-chairman), Ichiro Takekuro (ex-vice president) and Sakae Muto (ex-vice president) — are being tried in the Tokyo District Court starting June 30 for criminal negligence for failing to take certain safety measures that may have prevented the triple meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1.

More background information is available in this New York Times article.

Three ex-Tepco executives to be indicted over Fukushima nuclear disaster — The Japan Times

” Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. will be indicted Monday for the allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the tsunami-triggered disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a lawyer in charge of the case said Friday.

The three, who will face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, chairman of Tepco at the time, and two former vice presidents — Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.

Prosecutors originally decided not to indict the men in September 2013, but the decision was overturned in July 2015 by an independent committee of citizens that mandated the three be charged on the grounds they were able to foresee the risks of a major tsunami prior to the disaster.

Sources close to the matter said the three will be indicted but would not be taken into custody.

But the trial is unlikely to start by the end of the year, as preparations, such as collecting and sorting out evidence and other issues require time, they said.

At the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast, a tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake on March 11, 2011, flooded power supply facilities, crippling the cooling systems of some of the reactors. This led to core meltdowns in reactor Nos. 1 to 3, and masive hydrogen explosions that blew the roofs of the buildings housing units 1, 3 and 4 sky high.

The Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said the former executives were presented with a report by June 2009 saying the plant could be hit by a waves as high as 15.7 meters and that they “failed to take pre-emptive measures knowing the risk of a major tsunami.”

The committee also said the three were responsible for the injuries that occurred to 13 people from the hydrogen explosions, including Self-Defense Forces members, and the death of 44 hospital patients who evacuated amid harsh conditions.

A group of citizens in Fukushima and elsewhere filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against dozens of government and Tepco officials over their responsibility in connection with what became the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

But as prosecutors decided not to file charges against them, including then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the group narrowed down its target and asked the committee to examine whether the prosecutors’ decision was appropriate. ”

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Group to monitor trial of former Tepco executives to clarify truth about Fukushima disaster — The Asahi Shimbun

” Lawyers, journalists and scientists will form a group to help expose the truth and spread details about the Fukushima nuclear disaster during the criminal trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co.

“We will encourage the court to hold a fair trial while transmitting information regarding the trial across the nation,” said an official of the planned organization, whose name is translated as “support group for the criminal procedure on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Tsunehisa Katsumata, former chairman of TEPCO, the operator of the crippled plant, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, face mandatory charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Although the trial is still months away, 33 people are now setting up the group, including Ruiko Muto, who heads an organization pursuing the criminal responsibility of TEPCO and government officials for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Tetsuji Imanaka, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, and Norma Field, a professor emeritus of East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, have also joined.

Three reactors melted down at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011. A number of hospital patients died in the chaotic evacuation.

About 14,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture filed a criminal complaint against TEPCO executives, government officials and scientists in 2012, saying they were aware of the dangers to the Fukushima nuclear plant from a tsunami, but they failed in their responsibility to take proper countermeasures.

Tokyo prosecutors twice decided not to indict the three former TEPCO executives. However, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, a panel of citizens, decided to forcibly indict the three in July last year.

“It has been almost five years since the disaster, but many details, including their foreseeability of the tsunami, remain unclear,” said science writer Takashi Soeda, one of the group’s co-founders. “As TEPCO has not unveiled a sufficient amount of information even in inquiries conducted by the Diet and the government or in civil lawsuits, the truth must be uncovered through the legal force of a criminal trial.”

Five lawyers appointed by the Tokyo District Court will act as prosecutors in the trial.

Legal experts expect the lawyers will indict the former TEPCO executives and release a statement naming the victims around March 11, the fifth anniversary of the triple disaster that still haunts the Tohoku region. ”

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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. ”

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Three Tepco execs again dodge indictment over meltdown disaster — The Japan Times

” The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office dismissed a case Thursday against three former senior executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. again over their alleged negligence for failing to prevent the March 2011 tsunami-triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The prosecutor’s office cited a lack of sufficient evidence following its six-month reinvestigation, which was conducted after a special prosecution inquest panel ruled last July that the three should be charged with professional negligence leading to death and injury.

The three are former Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 74, former Executive Vice President Sakae Muto, 64, and Ichiro Takekuro, 68.

The rarely used inquest panel, made up of members of the public, was activated after the prosecutor’s office’s issued its first decision against their indictment in 2013.

Despite the latest decision, however, the three could still be indicted forcibly by court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors if the inquest panel seeks indictments for a second time. If that happens, it will be the first time anyone has been tried for a crime related to the nuclear disaster.

In the second investigation, the prosecutor’s office carried out fresh interviews with nuclear engineering, earthquake and tsunami experts to determine whether the former executives could have believed the tsunami risk and taken countermeasures.

While the prosecution inquest panel’s July ruling focused on the fact that the utility itself estimated in 2008 that the plant could be hit by tsunami as high as 15.7 meters, the prosecutors concluded that the impact of the March 2011 tsunami far exceeded that estimate and was hard to predict.

They also judged that it would have been difficult to prevent the disaster even if the utility had taken countermeasures as recommended by the inquest panel, the same conclusion they made in 2013.

Four unrevised reactor cooling systems at the six-reactor Fukushima No. 1 plant were knocked out by the huge tsunami triggered by the offshore March 2011 mega-quake. The two reactors that were built based on revised designs to protect against tsunami survived. ”

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3/11 charges for Tepco execs delayed by three months — The Japan Times; Japan prosecutors set to rule on possible Fukushima indictments — Reuters

Updated Oct. 27, 2014, The Japan Times: ” Prosecutors have delayed for three months a decision on whether to charge three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. for their handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, an official with a panel that requested the indictments said Friday.

The Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office had been re-investigating the case after an independent judicial panel of citizens ruled in July that three former Tepco executives, including then-chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, should be indicted over their handling of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion.

Prosecutors on Friday informed the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution of its decision to extend the probe by three months through the end of January, saying it was too difficult to reach a decision by the end-of-October deadline.

By law, prosecutors can extend investigations for up to three months.

Prosecutors decided in September last year not to indict the former Tepco executives, including Katsumata, saying it had been beyond the company’s imagination to foresee the scale of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that triggered the nuclear crisis.

Residents had accused more than 30 Tepco and government officials of ignoring the risks of a natural disaster and failing to respond appropriately when crisis struck. ”

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Posted Oct. 23, 2014: ” (Reuters) – Japanese prosecutors must decide this month whether to charge Tokyo Electric Power Co former executives for their handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, in a process that could drag the wrecked nuclear plant’s operator into criminal court.

The judicial review is unlikely to see the former Tepco executives go to jail, legal experts say, but rehashing details of the meltdowns and explosions that followed an earthquake and tsunami will cast a harsh light on the struggling utility and will not help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unpopular effort to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors.

The Tokyo’s District Prosecutors Office last year declined to charge more than 30 Tepco and government officials after investigating a criminal complaint from residents, who said officials ignored the risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant from natural disasters and failed to respond appropriately when crisis struck.

But a special citizens’ panel opened another legal front in July, asking prosecutors to consider charges of criminal negligence against three executives over their handling of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Under the review system, the prosecutors must respond by the end of the month.

If they again decline to take up the case, as some experts expect, the 11-member panel of unidentified citizens can order prosecutors to indict, if eight members vote in favor.

Prosecutorial Review Commissions, made up of citizen appointees, are a rarely used but high-profile feature of Japan’s legal system introduced after World War Two to curb bureaucratic over-reach. In 2009, they were given the power to force prosecutions.

A panel in 2011 forced the prosecution of former opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa over political funding. He was acquitted in 2012 and remains an opposition figure.

Tepco already faces a string of civil suits, a decades-long, multibillion dollar decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi and a struggle to restart a separate undamaged power station, the world’s biggest.

NOT LIKELY

All 48 of Japan’s reactors have been idle for more than a year under a safety regime that incorporated the lessons of Fukushima, where 160,000 people were forced to flee from a huge plume of radioactive material that left large areas uninhabitable for decades.

Backed by Abe’s pro-nuclear government, Kyushu Electric Power Co recently won approval from safety regulators to restart a plant in southwest Japan but faces opposition from some neighboring communities.

Nationwide, a majority of people has consistently opposed restarting nuclear power, according to opinion polls since the disaster.

The citizens’ panel said Tsunehisa Katsumata, Tepco chairman at the time of the disaster, and former executive vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro failed to take protect the Fukushima plant despite warnings it faced big tsunamis.

The prosecutors are unlikely to change their minds, said Shin Ushijima, an attorney and former public prosecutor.

“Prosecutors exhaust all means in their investigations and certainly would have in a special case like this, so if they were convinced they could not prosecute Katsumata and the others earlier, they will not reach a decision to indict now,” he said.

“There is a 50 percent chance that some or all of the three ex-Tepco executives will be indicted and 99.9 percent chance those indicted will be found not guilty,” Ushijima said.

“How can you prove one person, Katsumata for example, is liable or guilty, when such a big organization was behind such a large accident?”

Tepco faces huge compensation claims and has set aside just a fraction of the funds needed to decommission the Fukushima plant.

A court recently ordered the utility to pay compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself after being forced from her home because of the disaster. A group of Fukushima workers is also suing the company for unpaid wages. ”

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