Fukushima Disaster: Japan Court Acquits 3 Ex-Tokyo Power Firm Executives

Clay Curtis
September 21, 2019

A Japanese court on Thursday acquitted three former officials from the firm that operated the Fukushima nuclear plant, in the only criminal trial to stem from the 2011 disaster.

Three former executives of the company operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant today walked free from court after being found not guilty of professional negligence following the 2011 meltdown.

The meltdown caused by a tsunami after a powerful quake ranks as the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. After battery backups were depleted, the pumps stopped and the reactors overheated, causing a buildup of hydrogen, an explosion and subsequent meltdown of the reactor cores.

The nuclear accident prompted mass evacuations in neighboring areas.

TEPCO declined to comment directly on the ruling but pledged to devote itself to the compensation of disaster-hit people and the cleanup of the plant and its surroundings while enhancing the safety of nuclear plants "with unwavering determination".

Outside the Tokyo district court, supporters of the more than 5,700 Fukushima residents who filed the criminal complaint labelled the ruling "unbelievable". And a TEPCO internal study, based on a government report, concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit after a magnitude-8.3 quake.

"Our ultimate goal is to eradicate unsafe nuclear plants that have thrown many residents into despair", he said.

The defence argued that the executives could not have anticipated the tsunami, which led to the reactors being submerged under 10 meters of seawater.

During the trial, the former executives apologized to victims of the nuclear crisis and bereaved family members, but maintained their innocence on the question of negligence.

Prosecutors in December requested five-year prison sentences for each executive, accusing them of not doing enough to guard against the threat of a large tsunami despite knowing the risk.

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The team had argued that the plant operators could have prevented the disaster had they implemented anti-tsunami measures.

The prosecutors argued that the three former executives chose to overlook much of the information they were party to on numerous occasions, citing as a typical case the estimate by the TEPCO subsidiary.

All three had pleaded not guilty.

Legal experts had said it was unlikely the three former executives of Japan's biggest power provider would be found guilty, given prosecutors had decided not to take the case to trial. He denied that the instruction was meant to delay action being taken.

"This is only the beginning of a major battle", he said.

Katsumata also said he felt that the statements made in the 2009 meeting by the department head were made in a tone that made the presented information sound unreliable.

Defense attorneys for the TEPCO executives told the court that the tsunami projection was not well-established.

It was unclear if they could have completed preventive measures in time for the tsunami.

But a review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the former officials should face trial, forcing prosecutors to proceed.

The prosecution inquest panel system was introduced in May 2009 as part of judicial reforms that also saw the start of the lay judge system.

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