A prosecution inquest panel has decided that 3 former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company should be indicted for their handling of the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Residents of Fukushima Prefecture and others filed criminal complaints in 2012 against more than 30 TEPCO officials.
They claimed the utility's lack of precautions against a massive earthquake and tsunami amounts to professional negligence resulting in injury.
But prosecutors dismissed the complaints in September last year, saying the officials could not have predicted an earthquake and tsunami of such scale.
The plaintiffs took the issue to a prosecution inquest panel made up of randomly-selected citizens.
They'd narrowed their target to 6 former TEPCO executives, including former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata.
On Thursday, the panel judged the prosecution wrong and said Katsumata and 2 others should stand trial.
For the other 3, the panel judged one of the non-indictments as unjust and the other 2 as appropriate.
The prosecution will now decide whether to indict the 4 who've been judged found trial-worthy.
The panel said that Tokyo Electric Power Company has recognized that the utility will not be able to easily ignore future earthquakes and tsunami projected by a science ministry panel.
The panel said that even though it is uncertain whether natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunami will come or not, TEPCO had to take measures on the basis that such earthquakes and tsunami are likely to hit its Fukushima plant.
If prosecutors decide again not to indict them, the case will automatically go back to the inquest panel. If the panel repeats its judgment, Katsumata and the other 2 will be forced to stand trial.
Regarding former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government leaders at the time of the disaster, another inquest panel has already judged as appropriate the decision by prosecutors not to indict them.
Former TEPCO chairman Katsumata has told NHK he is in no position to comment on the panel's judgment.
The plaintiffs' leader, Ruiko Muto, said it's disappointing that not all 6 were judged trial-worthy, but described the decision as honest and proper.
She called for an immediate re-investigation by the prosecution.