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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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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Who’s responsible for the Fukushima disaster? — column by The Japan Times

” The International Atomic Energy Agency released its comprehensive — but mostly ignored — final report on Fukushima on Aug. 30.

It blamed the March 2011 triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant on a blind belief in “the nuclear safety myth.” In other words, the myth that Japan’s “nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable.”

“The regulation of nuclear safety in Japan at the time of the accident was performed by a number of organizations with different roles and responsibilities and complex interrelationships,” the report said. “It was not fully clear which organizations had the responsibility and authority to issue binding instructions on how to respond to safety issues without delay. The regulations, guidelines and procedures in place at the time of the accident were not fully in line with international practice in some key areas, most notably in relation to periodic safety reviews, re-evaluation of hazards, severe accident management and safety culture.”

I’m sure we all remember the “unforeseeable” accident that happened in Fukushima in March 2011, an accident that will take an estimated 40 years and billions of dollars to clean up, some of it already subsidized with taxpayer money and higher electric bills.

Having restarted a reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima in August, one might suspect that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kyushu Electric Power Co. don’t appear to remember this accident very well.

For a start, putting the reactor in Kagoshima back online didn’t exactly go according to plan. Despite months of inspection, seawater was detected in the reactor’s cooling system in late August. Alarm bells sounded.

In spite of all the checks and balances that were introduced in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, power utilities are continuing to drop the ball as far as their reactors are concerned. How can we ensure such oversight is avoided?

Katsunoba Onda, author of “Tepco: The Darkness of the Empire,” which predicted in 2007 the nuclear accident at Fukushima, and lawyer Hiroyuki Kawai, who established the National Network of Counsels in Cases against Nuclear Power Plants, have proposed a very simple way of ensuring this happens: hold nuclear plant operators criminally liable for negligence. The threat of incarceration might help them take their work more seriously and less likely to cut corners.

The Prosecutorial Review Board appears to back such a proposal, approving the first criminal prosecutions of three former Tepco executives last July. The board consists of a panel of 11 private citizens, who operate under a rarely used set-up in the Japanese legal system that allows outsiders to review prosecutors’ decisions.

The panel ordered that Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tepco at the time of the accident, and two former heads of the utility’s nuclear division, be charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Prosecutors, however, have to date been slow to pursue criminal liability in the case. They did accept submissions from the public but then leaked their decision not to prosecute just as Japan won the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The story, however, doesn’t end there.

This decision was again sent to the Prosecutorial Review Board, which again recommended that a criminal case be filed. For the second year in succession, the Prosecutorial Review Board overruled the prosecutors.

Prosecutors have reportedly continued to reject the case because “it is not possible to prove negligence.”

The IAEA report is expected to be submitted as evidence showing the exact opposite.

“When you have a disaster of this scale, isn’t it crazy not to pursue responsibility?” Kawai, who led the citizen’s group that filed charges with the prosecutors, told Nikkan Gendai. “The common sense of the people overturned the judgment of prosecutors, prosecutors who favor large companies and the powerful. Tepco knew about the possibility of a large-scale tsunami and did nothing about it. The idea that if it’s not easily foreseeable, no one is responsible is mistaken. Abe says ‘Japan has the safest nuclear standards in the world.’ He’s the only one saying it. It’s not true. The Abe administration’s push for war and for nuclear energy are very dangerous — one mistake and this country will be destroyed.”

If the Tepco executives are tried in court and found guilty, it wouldn’t be the first time nuclear power operators were convicted of criminal negligence resulting in death. In 1999, two employees died in an accident at the Tokaimura power plant run by JCO, a nuclear fuel cycle company. Six of the company’s executives were later charged and pleaded guilty to criminal charges of negligence resulting in the deaths.

They were all given suspended sentences. ”

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