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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Fukushima nuclear plant: Tsunami wall could have avoided disaster but boss scrapped the plan, employee testifies — Newsweek

” A worker for the plant involved the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster said in a Japanese court Wednesday that his former boss was warned that a massive tsunami could strike the site, but delayed measures to build a protective wall to prevent it.

An unnamed employee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that owns the ruined Fukushima Daiichi or No.1, Nuclear Power Plant testified during a trial this week that a 2008 safety test showed an earthquake could cause a tsunami as high as 52 feet capable of pounding the coastal facility, according to The Asahi Shimbun. The company was initially set to build a seawall, but the employee told the court that former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto suddenly dismissed the idea.

The potentially catastrophic scenario was brought up again during a meeting on March 7, 2011, compelling shocked regulators to again recommend a wall to shield the facility, The Japan Times reported. But it was too late already: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck only four days later on March 11, 2011, leaving up to 18,500 people dead or missing and destroying the facility.

Three out of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No.1 plant suffered devastating meltdowns. Muto, along with former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former TEPCO Vice President Ichiro Takekuro were indicted in February 2016 and are facing trial for suspected professional negligence resulting in death or injury after the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident in 1986.

The multi-billion dollar effort to recover the site is far past schedule and over budget, but the TEPCO has claimed some recent successes. Six years after the disaster, the melted nuclear fuel was finally founded at the bottom of the partially submerged reactors. The site was so radioactive, even the robots previously sent it could not traverse the deadly core.

Efforts to retrieve the fuel, however, have been hampered as the $324 million ice wall that penetrated 100 feet into the earth failed to stop groundwater from leaking into the site, as Reuters reported last month. In fact, the amount of groundwater seeping into the facility may have increased since the highly-anticipated ice wall was installed last August, amounting to the latest setback in a cleanup process already beset by seemingly endless complications and miscalculations.

Removing this water adds to an already growing storage crisis on the site. TEPCO deliberately added water to cool off the plant’s damaged reactors. After coming in contact with the plant, the coolant water and groundwater became tainted with a substance known as tritium, a byproduct of the nuclear process notoriously difficult to filter out of water. TEPCO has accumulated over 1 million tons of this tritium-laced water in 650 giant tanks, according to The Japan Times, and is urging the government to let the company begin dumping it into the ocean.

Some locals have protested this, however. While tritium was a natural byproduct of the nuclear process that experts have described as harmless in smaller doses and was dumped into oceans worldwide, Fukushima activists and fishermen have argued that dumping tritium, even in small quantities, would further hurt the reputation of the region, still synonymous with nuclear disaster. Nearby China and South Korea are among the nations that still restrict the import of certain products from Japan.

Lingering concerns about radiation have also reportedly kept many of the 160,000 residents that fled Fukushima from returning. Life, nevertheless, has begun to return to some parts of the crisis-stricken prefecture. The town of Okuma announced Wednesday that some citizens would be allowed to stay overnight starting next week for the first time since the March 2011 disaster, Japanese daily The Mainichi Shimbun said. ”

by Tom O’Connor, Newsweek

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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.

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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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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