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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