Prosecutors say TEPCO leaders should have known the risks a tsunami could pose to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which sits along Japan’s eastern coast. Here, the Unit 3 reactor is seen this past summer, amid storage tanks of radiation-contaminated water.
Executives In Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Deserve 5-Year Prison Terms, Prosecutors Say
December 26, 2018
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 attribute 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 Wednesday, 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.
Jail term demanded for ex-bosses over Fukushima nuclear crisis
The charges are the only ones to have stemmed from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986
December 26, 2018
DANGEROUS. A staff member of the Tokyo Electric Power Company measures radiation levels between reactor unit 2 and unit 3 (Rear) at the tsunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.
TOKYO, Japan – A 5-year jail term was sought for 3 former executives at the company operating Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, media reported Wednesday, December 26, the only people to face criminal charges over the 2011 meltdowns.
Former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury, and have pleaded not guilty.
They are the only charges to have stemmed from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Attorneys, who are exceptionally acting as prosecutors in the trial, said the 3 executives were aware of data indicating the nuclear plant risked being hit by a tsunami with waves exceeding 15 meters (52 feet) – enough to trigger power loss and cause severe accidents.
“They should have halted operations at the nuclear plant” until the company finished anti-tsunami measures, including construction of a breakwater, the prosecutors told Tokyo District Court, according to Jiji Press.
Katsumata, 78, has said during the trial he could not have predicted the towering waves that pummelled Japan’s northeast coast and swamped reactors in March 2011.
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.
The charges against the ex-bosses are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalized patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.
Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.
But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the trio should be put on special trial in which designated attorneys accuse defendants and demand a penalty.
Waves as high as 14 meters swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011 after a 9.0 magnitude tremor.
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.
A parliamentary report a year after the disaster said Fukushima was a man-made crisis caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience.”