Court Clears Three Former Tepco Executives Of Failing To Prevent Fukushima Accident – Eurasia Review
A Japanese court acquitted three former Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) executives charged with failing to prevent the March 2011 accident at the company’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The judge ruled they could not have foreseen the massive earthquake and tsunami that led to the meltdown of three of the plant’s reactors.
In a case filed with the Tokyo District Court by more than 5700
Fukushima residents, former Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and vice
presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto were charged with failing to
implement tsunami countermeasures at the plant. The accident
led to the deaths of 44 people – mainly sick and elderly citizens
forced to evacuate from a local hospital – and injuries to 13 people in
hydrogen explosions at the stricken plant.
The trial – the only criminal case to arise from the accident –
started in June 2017 and was conducted by state-appointed lawyers after
prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the three men.
The lawyers claimed the former executives could have prevented the
accident if they had acted on predictions of the potential size of
tsunamis and put appropriate countermeasures in place. It was calculated
that tsunami waves of more than 15 metres could hit the Fukushima coast
based on a 2002 government long-term evaluation of earthquake risks.
This estimate was reported to Tepco in 2008. The lawyers were seeking
five-year sentences for the three former executives.
However, the court found all three men not guilty of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said that while they may have been aware of
the risk of a major tsunami before the accident, it was not clear if
preventative measures could have been put in place in time to prevent
“It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are
obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary
measures,” he was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency.
The prosecutors argued that Tepco, aware of the risk of large
tsunamis, could have stopped operations at the Fukushima Daiichi plant
whilst safety measures were put in place. This, they claimed, would have
prevented the accident. However, the court said there would have been a
“social impact” if Tepco had not met its responsibility of supplying
The magnitude 9 quake in March 2011 subjected the Fukushima Daiichi
plant to forces much greater than the plant was designed to withstand.
However, the six reactors at the plant, as well as the four units at the
nearby Fukushima Daini plant, appeared to have survived the earthquake
relatively unscathed. It was the subsequent huge tsunami, however, that
inundated the plants and damaged power grids in the region that
ultimately led to the loss of back-up power and cooling functions at the
reactors and used fuel ponds. More than 160,000 residents in the
surrounding area evacuated.
A July 2012 report from the Japanese Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear
Accident Independent Investigation Commission – one of three bodies
investigating the circumstances of the accident – concluded the accident
was “man-made”. No organisation was singled out as responsible – but
rather Japanese culture itself.
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