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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Proving negligence in Tepco case daunting — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” On July 31, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution announced its decision that former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and two other former company executives “should be indicted” in connection with the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.

In this case the “will of the people” has spoken to counter the prosecutor’s decision not to indict, but proving culpable negligence in an accident associated with a natural disaster will be difficult. The prosecution’s designated lawyer is expected to face an uphill battle to convict the three men.

Concrete recognition

“The decision clearly states that [TEPCO] should’ve been able to foresee the onslaught of the tsunami,” said Hiroyuki Kawai, lawyer for the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, at a press conference held in Tokyo following the decision to indict. “The prospects for the trial are bright.”

The inquest committee and the prosecution, however, are far apart over whether the three individuals accused could “foresee” the likelihood of a massive tsunami and the ensuing disaster.

In 2008, TEPCO published the results of preliminary calculations that predicted a maximum credible tsunami of 15.7 meters based on a long-term assessment by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office concluded that establishing “foreseeability” meant more concrete evidence was needed beyond a vague foreboding of danger or anxiety, deemed that TEPCO’s preliminary tsunami reports couldn’t be regarded as having the scholarly persuasiveness necessary and denied foreseeability on the part of the company’s former officers and others.

The inquest committee, made up of 11 members of the public, responded that “it is sufficient that there must be foreseeability given the fact that a tsunami occurred and some sort of response was required.”

The committee stressed that the three individuals accused had a duty to exercise a high degree of care to prevent accidents since they all held positions of responsibility, and that the maximum credible tsunami report “absolutely could not be ignored.”

‘A certain extent’

Nevertheless, a big hurdle must be cleared to prove criminal responsibility for negligence when accidents occur.

“Jurists and the general public look at foreseeability and the duty to exercise care differently,” one veteran judge noted. “Proving foreseeability could be difficult to prove on the basis of preliminary tsunami calculations.”

In the JR Fukuchiyama Line derailment accident in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, three successive presidents of West Japan Railway Co. were subjected to mandatory indictment on a charge of corporate manslaughter.

The inquest committee for the case, which is currently under appeal, said, “Even in the most basic civic sense, stringent safety measures should obviously be taken as quickly as possible.”

Yet at the trial and the first appeal, the court ruled the three were not guilty as the three successive presidents could not have foreseen the accident.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was caused by a natural phenomenon that would have been difficult to predict, making the charge even more of a challenge to prove.

“The purpose of criminal law is to pursue the responsibility of individuals,” said Tokai University Prof. Yoshihiko Ikeda, who specializes in criminal-negligence theory. “In terms of large-scale accidents related to disasters, senior management can be held responsible for negligence only to a certain extent.”

Choice of words

Now that a decision to indict has been made, the Tokyo District Court chose Friday three designated lawyers for the prosecution who will carry out supplementary investigations. The three accused might be subjected to mandatory indictment by the end of the year at the earliest.

All eyes are on what TEPCO’s former executives will say in court regarding the unprecedented accident.

Lawyer Motoharu Furukawa, a former prosecutor and author of books like “Fukushima gempatsu, sabakarenai de ii no ka” (Is it right to not take the Fukushima nuclear power plant to court?), published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc., says: “It’s of great importance that this be delved into publicly in court. It may even lead to a rethinking of nuclear power safety policy.”

Why did a major disaster that led to reactor meltdowns take place? Was there no way the accident could have been prevented?

Aside from the question of criminal responsibility, Katsumata and his associates need to present the full truth in court.

Doubts over system

The mandatory-indictment system was instituted in May 2009 so the “will of the people” would be reflected in judgments over whether or not to indict, judgments that hitherto had been the sole preserve of prosecutors.

While there is praise for the fact that, with this system in mind, prosecutors have become more cautious in deciding not to indict, a string of cases that used mandatory indictment have nevertheless ended in acquittals, exposing certain problems in the system.

First of all, the mandatory indictment system provides no opportunity for those under inquest to present their side of the story.

The Law for the Inquest of Prosecution makes it mandatory for a prosecutor to present the case prior to any decision to indict, but the accused forced into a public trial through a mandatory indictment has no opportunity to contest the charges beforehand.

“Would it not be a good idea to consider hearing the side of those under indictment, even if just to maintain the fairness of the inquest?” said Yasuyuki Takai, a lawyer who was involved in designing the system.

Then there’s the fact that the role of “inquest assistant,” which gives legal advice to the inquest committee, is limited to a single individual. A lawyer is appointed as inquest assistant, who responds to queries from the committee members.

Yukio Yamashita, a lawyer who has experience as an inquest assistant, pointed out that for a single individual “explaining legal arguments to the general public is difficult.”

“For a truly adequate inquest multiple assistants would be necessary,” Yamashita said.

Another problematic point is how the designated lawyer bears an excessive burden.

Proving guilt in a case where the prosecution has chosen not to indict is difficult — the maximum compensation paid to a designated lawyer for a single trial or appeal is ¥1.2 million.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is said to be planning to submit an opinion calling for improvements to the mandatory-indictment system this year to the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry.

The system must be revised if it is to live up to its original goal, it seems. ”

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