“If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to ¥1 million ($9,000)”
This combination of pictures shows (from left) former Tokyo Electric Power Co. chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, former vice presidents of the company Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto.
Fukushima Disaster: Former Nuclear Power Plant Executives to Stand Trial for Deaths of Over 40 People
Three former executives at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are due to stand trial at Tokyo District Court Friday, in connection with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The trio face criminal charges following three nuclear meltdowns after the emergency generators needed to cool the nuclear reactors malfunctioned following a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan.
The ensuing nuclear catastrophe—the biggest since Chernobyl in 1986—led thousands of people to flee their homes and resulted in the death of more than 40 hospitalized patients who were evacuated from the Fukushima area, in addition to the estimated 22,000 people killed or unaccounted for after the country’s largest earthquake.
The hearing comes one year after former TEPCO chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and the two former vice presidents Sakae Muto 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71 were charged with professional negligence leading to injury or death. They have all pleaded not guilty ahead of the trial.
“We hope the trial will shed light on the responsibility for this accident. The accident hasn’t been resolved. There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima, and there are still many unresolved problems,” Ruiko Muto, who heads the group that pushed for the trial, told The Japan Times.
In 2008, TEPCO conducted an internal study, simulating the events of a 52-foot-high wave and a 8.3 magnitude quake, The Japan Times reported. The extent of the damage suggested that executives ignored the findings, as the wave that hit the nuclear plant reached 45 feet.
Following the disaster, TEPCO was required to pump tons of water into the plant to cool the reactors. The government spent $15 billion collecting radioactive topsoil from the site, and residents are now, after six years, being encouraged to return home.
Decommissioning the power plant is expected to take four decades. In February, sievert readings of 530 Sv were recorded in reactor No. 2: In context, 1 Sv is enough to cause radiation sickness, while 5 Sv would kill half those exposed after one month.
Ex-Tepco execs to go on trial over Fukushima disaster
Three former Tokyo Electric Power Co. executives are set to stand trial this week on the only criminal charges laid in connection to the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster, as thousands remain unable to return to their homes near the shuttered facility.
The hearing on Friday comes more than a year after ex-Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, were formally charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
The tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant set off the worst nuclear accident since 1986’s Chernobyl incident.
“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, said. “The accident hasn’t been resolved. There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima and there are still many unresolved problems.”
The trial follows a prolonged battle over whether or not to indict the Tepco executives.
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 — 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.
“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 ¥1 million ($9,000).
Tepco declined to comment on the trial, saying the men “have already left the company.”
The three are expected to plead not guilty, and argue it was impossible to have predicted the size of the massive tsunami that slammed into the country’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 meters (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 cleanup and liability costs — allegedly ignored the internal study.
Waves as high as 14 meters swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011.
Although the natural disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, technically the Fukushima meltdown itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.
The charges against the executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalized patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.
Around a dozen others — including Tepco employees and members of 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 the country, unable or unwilling to go back home, as fears over radiation persist.
A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said misguided faith in the complete safety of atomic power was a key factor in the Fukushima accident.
It pointed to flaws 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 a culture of “reflexive obedience.”
An angry public pointed to cozy ties between the government, regulators and nuclear operators as the reason for the lack of criminal charges.
Campaigners have called for about three-dozen company officials to be held accountable for their failure to properly protect the site against a tsunami.
The accident forced the shutdowns of dozens of reactors across the nation, 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 they face widespread opposition as anti-nuclear sentiment remains high.