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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Seismologist testifies Fukushima nuclear disaster preventable — The Mainichi

” TOKYO — A seismologist has testified during the trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant, that the nuclear crisis could have been prevented if proper countermeasures had been taken.

“If proper steps had been taken based on a long-term (tsunami) evaluation, the nuclear accident wouldn’t have occurred,” Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, told the Tokyo District Court on May 9.

Shimazaki, who played a leading role in working out the national government’s long-term evaluation, appeared at the 11th hearing of the three former TEPCO executives as a witness.

Prosecutors had initially not indicted the three former TEPCO executives. However, after a prosecution inquest panel consisting of members of the public deemed twice that the three deserve prosecution, court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors indicted the three under the Act on Committee for Inquest of Prosecution.

Court-appointed attorneys insist that former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto, 67, and others postponed implementing tsunami countermeasures based on the long-term evaluation, leading to the disaster.

The government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion released its long-term evaluation in 2002 predicting that a massive tsunami could occur along the Japan Trench including the area off Fukushima.

In 2008, TEPCO estimated that a tsunami up to 15.7 meters high could hit the Fukushima No. 1 power station, but failed to reflect the prediction in its tsunami countermeasures at the power station.

The Cabinet Office’s Central Disaster Prevention Council also did not adopt the long-term evaluation in working out its disaster prevention plan.

Shimazaki, who was a member of the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion’s earthquake research panel in 2002, told the court that the Cabinet Office pressured the panel shortly before the announcement of the long-term evaluation to state that the assessment is unreliable. The headquarters ended up reporting in the long-term evaluation’s introduction that there were problems with the assessment’s reliability and accuracy.

In his testimony, Shimazaki pointed out that the Central Disaster Prevention Council decision not to adopt the long-term evaluation led to inappropriate tsunami countermeasures.

With regard to factors behind the council’s refusal to accept the evaluation, Shimazaki stated that he can only think of consideration shown to those involved in the nuclear power industry and politics.

“If countermeasures had been in place based on the long-term evaluation, many lives would’ve been saved,” Shimazaki told the court.

Shimazaki served as deputy chairman of the government’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

(Japanese original by Epo Ishiyama, City News Department, and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department) “

published in The Mainichi

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The Man who saved Japan, Masao Yoshida — Asia Times

” It was the proverbial 3 a.m. telephone call, three days into the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011.

Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was snatching sleep on the couch in his office when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano woke him with the news that the utility in charge of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was abandoning the stricken facility.

Fearful that this would entail a massive evacuation of northern Japan and possibly Tokyo, Kan’s instinctive first reaction was to call Masao Yoshida, the superintendent at the plant site about a three-hour drive northeast of the capital.

Yoshida assured him that the report was not true. “There are still some things that we can do,” he told the premier. This was as explosions blew out reactor buildings at the plant, crippled by an earthquake and tsunami, and as fears grew that reactors had started to melt down.

Two days earlier, Kan had flown to the plant by helicopter to inspect the accident site first hand. During a 20-minute meeting with Yoshida, he sized him up as a man he could trust in the crisis, especially as the prime minister rapidly lost faith in Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives.

Almost nobody associated with the Fukushima disaster came out of it looking good, not Kan, not the regulators (such as they were), and certainly not the executives at Tepco’s downtown headquarters.

The exception was Yoshida, often touted as the “hero” of the Fukushima disaster, although he was too modest to claim the title for himself.

Yoshida is the central figure in a new book on the nuclear meltdowns called Yoshida’s Dilemma, One Man’s Struggle to Avert a Nuclear Catastrophe by Rob Gilhooly, a Japan-based journalist and photographer.

Gilhooly’s book is the best and most comprehensive account of the nuclear disaster in English so far (a Japanese translation is under discussion). Much of the subject matter is technical, but the author is skillful enough to make it readable and accessible to the general reader.

In writing the book Gilhooly drew on interviews with officials at the nuclear plant, extensive visits to the Fukushima area and the plant site, as well as three comprehensive government and private investigations into the accident.

It is not clear from the book whether he interviewed Yoshida on-the-record. Yoshida was known to avoid the limelight and gave very few interviews. He’s not mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements.

Yoshida took early retirement in late 2011 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died in July, 2013. The illness is not thought to have been linked to radiation exposure.

Even former PM Kan lamented, “I wish I had had the chance to talk to him at length about the nuclear disaster.” It is rather astonishing that possibly the two key players in the nuclear tragedy never really compared notes.

Yoshida did give one rare interview to a counselor from Kyoto who had earned his gratitude by treating and counseling workers who faced social ostracism and other problems because they worked at Fukushima.

The only time during the interview that Yoshida showed much emotion was when he denied ordering any abandonment of the plant. That is a question that has lingered over the Fukushima story even after his death.

In 2014 the Asahi newspaper published and then retracted a story that Yoshida had ordered the 700 or so plant workers to leave the site.

Yoshida explained to a government investigation committee that he had ordered the evacuation of nonessential personnel from the plant, but kept back 50 to 60 engineering staff to tackle the cascading disaster and at no time contemplated abandoning the plant on Japan’s Pacific coast.

He and his group of engineers became known as the “Fukushima 50” that risked their own lives to contain the calamity.

By most accounts, Yoshida, who had worked for Tepco for 32 years, was a typical Japanese company man, but he surmounted the stereotype in the way he handled the accident.

For example, massive amounts of water were being pumped into the damaged reactors for cooling and as all sources of fresh water were depleted at the site, Tepco executives ordered him not to use sea water as a replacement.

The executives, still apparently under the delusion that the reactors could be brought back into service some day, opposed salt water as it would have contaminated the reactors beyond all repair.

Yoshida ignored these orders from head office and ordered his plant workers to pump seawater into the damaged reactors. This was a critical decision at a critical moment in the disaster.

“Just keep pumping,” he told subordinates. “Pretend you didn’t hear me [tell Tepco executives he was pumping fresh water] and just keep pumping.”

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission established by the parliament later concluded that (Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate headquarters instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores did not explode.

It was Masao Yoshida’s finest hour. ”

by Todd Crowell, Asia Times

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Charges ruled out for Tepco figures over Fukushima No. 1 radioactive water spillage into sea — The Japan Times

” Public prosecutors decided on Tuesday not to indict Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose and other current and former executives of the utility over radioactive water leaks from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Sufficient evidence was not found, the Fukushima District Public Prosecutor’s Office said.

In September 2013, a civic group filed a criminal complaint against 32 current and former Tepco executives, including Hirose and Tsunehisa Katsumata, former chairman of the operator of the northeastern nuclear power plant, saying tainted water leaked from storage tanks into the ocean due to their failure to take preventive measures.

Through its investigation, the Fukushima Prefectural Police concluded that some 300 tons of stored radioactive water had flowed into the sea as of July 2013 because Tepco executives neglected to monitor the tanks or take leak-prevention measures, and sent the case to the prosecutors last October.

The prosecutors said there was no evidence supporting the allegation that the leaked tainted water was carried into the sea by groundwater at the plant, which suffered meltdowns following the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The group said it will ask for a prosecution inquest panel’s investigation. ”

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Worker dies at disabled Fukushima nuclear power plant — Vice News

” A 30 year-old man died this weekend as he worked on decommissioning Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was devastated in the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, in which 20,000 died or were reported missing.

It is not yet known whether the man’s death was due to radiation exposure, and an autopsy is pending.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a series of meltdowns in 2011 during a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. The quake knocked out the plant’s cooling systems, causing meltdowns in the plant’s reactors and a radioactive leak that triggered the evacuation of thousands of people in the area.

In a statement released Monday, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said that the man had been taken to the emergency room after complaining that he wasn’t feeling well. “His death was confirmed early in the afternoon,” Tepco said.

Isabelle Dublineau, the head of the experimental radiotoxicology laboratory for France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), said that, “there are many thresholds of radiation exposure.” Speaking to VICE News Tuesday, Dublineau said it was “too early” to comment on the death.

This is the third recorded death at the stricken Fukushima plant since the start of the decommissioning work. In March 2014, a laborer at the plant was killed after being buried under gravel while digging, and in January 2015, a worker died after falling inside a water storage tank.

While the latest death has already been branded suspicious in the media, Tepco has so far denied that any of the deaths are related to radiation exposure.

On some days, radioactive emissions at the Fukushima plant can be as high as 2.16 millisieverts [mSv] — more than one-tenth of the allowed annual exposure for nuclear energy workers. As a result, workers are limited to three-hour shifts, and labor in grueling conditions, particularly in the summer, when the temperature can reach 113 degrees. The heat is made worse by the heavy protective gear worn by workers to protect themselves from radiation exposure — including suits, boots, gloves and masks.

The worker who died over the weekend was working up to three hours a day at the plant, on the construction of the “ice wall” — an underground frozen wall designed to box in the melted reactors and contain the seeping radioactive water to prevent further groundwater pollution. Today, clean groundwater from around the plant flows through the melted reactor and mixes with the contaminated water in the reactors. To prevent ocean pollution, Tepco has to store the contaminated water in reservoirs and treat it, before pumping it back out.

Tepco has warned that decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant could take up to 40 years. In early July, the Japanese government notified the evacuated residents of Naraha — a town of 7,400 that lies 20 miles from the nuclear plant — that they would be able return to their homes in September. Naraha has an estimated annual radiation dose of 20 millisieverts — the maximum annual dose allowed for nuclear energy workers in France.

Following the 2011 nuclear disaster, Japan shut down all of its 50 working reactors, which were supplying close to a third of the country’s electricity. Forced to turn to other sources of energy, Japan has since become the second largest importer of coal behind China.

Tepco has been heavily criticized for its handling of the Fukushima catastrophe, and three former Tepco executives currently face criminal charges and are due to stand trial soon for “negligence.”

In February, the nuclear operator revealed that contaminated water had been leaking into the Pacific ocean. According to French daily Le Monde, Tepco had known about the leak for almost a year before it made the information public.

Japan currently has 48 off-line reactors — a few of which have recently been deemed operable. Pending decisions by local authorities, these reactions could be operational as early as the end of 2015. ”

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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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