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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Inquest panel calls for indictments against former TEPCO executives



Rejecting a decision by prosecutors, an independent judicial panel of citizens said July 31 that three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. should be indicted over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury are warranted against former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office had decided not to indict 42 people, including the three former TEPCO executives.
In response to the inquest committee’s decision, however, the prosecutors office will reinvestigate the case to decide whether to indict the three.
If prosecutors again decide not to indict them but the inquest committee maintains its stance that they should be held criminally responsible for the disaster, the three will be indicted mandatorily and stand trial.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami led to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011, residents affected by the accident and citizens groups filed complaints with prosecutors against the 42 people. Those named in the complaints included not only the former TEPCO executives, but also former high-ranking government officials, including Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster.
The groups said some inpatients died on their way to evacuation centers from hospitals while others were exposed to radiation from the nuclear power plant.
The prosecutors office accepted the complaints in August 2012. But after the investigations wrapped up, they decided in September 2013 not to indict any of the 42 people.
Prosecutors said the size and scale of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami could not have been predicted by experts. They also said evidence of negligence among the 42 people was insufficient.
But a group of people, including those affected by the nuclear accident, asked the prosecution inquest committee in October 2013 to examine the evidence against six former TEPCO executives, including Katsumata, Muto and Takekuro.
In the July 31 announcement of its decision, the inquest panel pointed out that before the nuclear accident, TEPCO estimated that a tsunami as high as “15.7 meters” could hit the Fukushima plant, based on a government organization’s forecast.
The actual tsunami was 15.5 meters at the highest point and inundated the reactor buildings that were located 10 meters above sea level.
“Assuming the arrival of such a tsunami, TEPCO should have taken countermeasures, although it is impossible to predict when it would arrive because a tsunami is a natural phenomenon,” the panel said.

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