Ex-bosses to go on trial over Fukushima disaster — The Star Online

” Tokyo (AFP) – Three former executives at Fukushima’s operator stand trial this week on the only criminal charges laid in the 2011 disaster, as thousands remain unable to return to homes near the shuttered nuclear plant.

The hearing on Friday comes more than a year after ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, were formally charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The indictments are the first — and only — criminal charges stemming from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

“We hope the trial will shed light on where the responsibility for this accident…lies,” Ruiko Muto, who heads a group that pushed for the trial, told AFP.

“The accident hasn’t been resolved. There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima and there are still many unresolved problems,” she said.

The trial follows a battle over whether or not to indict the Tepco executives.

Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges against the men, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.

But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 — for the second time since the accident — that the trio should be put on trial.

That decision compelled prosecutors to press on with the criminal case under Japanese law.

“We want a verdict as soon as possible,” Muto said.

“Some victims of this tragedy have died without seeing the start of the trial.”

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

Internal report

Tepco declined to comment on the trial, saying the men “have already left the company”.

The three are reportedly expected to plead not guilty, and argue it was impossible to have predicted the size of the massive tsunami that slammed into Japan’s northeast coast following a huge undersea earthquake.

However, a 2011 government panel report said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit the plant if a magnitude-8.3 quake occurred off the coast of Fukushima.

Executives at the company — which is facing huge clean-up and liability costs — allegedly ignored the internal study.

Waves as high as 14 metres swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011.

Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.

The charges against the executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.

Around a dozen others — including Tepco employees and members of Japan’s Self Defense Forces — were injured during the accident.

The disaster forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes near the plant. Many are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home, as fears over radiation persist.

A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said a misguided faith in the complete safety of atomic power was a key factor in the Fukushima accident.

It pointed to weaknesses in disaster preparedness and in plant design, along with unclear responsibilities among regulators.

A parliamentary report compiled a year after the disaster also said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience”.

An angry public pointed to cosy ties among the government, regulators and nuclear operators for the lack of criminal charges.

Campaigners have called for about three dozen company officials to be held accountable for their failure properly to protect the site against a tsunami.

The accident forced the shutdown of dozens of reactors across Japan, with just a handful online more than six years later.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies are pushing to get reactors back in operation, but anti-nuclear sentiment remains high and there is widespread opposition to the idea. ”

by The Star Online

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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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