Three executives acquitted of negligence over Fukushima nuclear disaster

Three executives acquitted of negligence over Fukushima nuclear disaster

A court in Japan on Thursday acquitted three former executives at the company which runs the Fukushima nuclear power facility that melted down during the 2011 tsunami disaster.

Tokyo district court acquits three TEPCO executives of professional negligence in the only criminal prosecution stemming from the Fukushima disaster.

Ahead of the ruling, a lawyer representing almost 6,000 Fukushima residents who filed a criminal complaint, Hiroyuki Kawai, said the trial marking "only the beginning of a major battle".

"It is absolutely an unjust ruling".

In concluding the two-year trial, presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi ruled that the trio could not have foreseen the 9.0 magnitude natural disaster, which caused massive tsunami and knocked out critical cooling systems at the three reactors, and heavily damaged other facilities at the Fukushima plant on the northeast coast. The other two, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, are former executive vice presidents.

The first of a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant rips through a building casing reactor number one, but the reactor itself remains intact.

The executives apparently did not believe that government's long-term evaluation of quake risks and found the information to be unreliable, the defense team argued, and that building coastal levees to protect the nuclear facility from large tsunami waves not necessary.

In its ruling, the court said the defendants held responsible positions at TEPCO, but that did not necessarily mean they were responsible for taking measures beyond those in the legal regulatory framework.

Based on these factors, the court said the information was not something that would have alerted the executives to the possibility of an overpowering tsunami and made it very hard for them to decide to halt operations at the plant given the various negative effects such action would have produced. However, the court ruled that TEPCO leadership was aware of a need to improve tsunami prevention measures and considering taking steps, but their measures were in line with government safety standards at the time.

"Who is going to take responsibility then?"

Fourteen people died in the incident, 13 were injured and about 160,000 had to be evacuated, Kyodo reported. He said he sincerely hopes that justice will be served at the appeal court. "The ruling sounded as if it was written by supporters of nuclear energy".

A Japanese court has cleared the only people to face criminal charges as a result of the Fukushima disaster.

Defence attorneys told the court that the tsunami prediction was not well established.

However, the court said the central government's long-term quake forecast used as a basis for the estimate "had no specific basis, had been questioned by experts and was not reflected in disaster management plans compiled by local governments". The utility declined to comment on the outcome of the trial.

Katsumata apologized "to the people for causing tremendous trouble" in a statement released by his lawyer.

An editorial published Thursday in The Asahi Shimbun said that Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority had made a decision to reopen an investigation into the Fukushima disaster after suspending it five years ago. "Our land and water are still being tainted by Tepco".

They argued the executives were presented data warning a tsunami exceeding 10 metres could trigger power loss and a major disaster at the plant.

The crisis began when a magnitude 9 natural disaster struck northeast Japan in 2011, unleashing waves more than 30 feet high.

Their trial began more than two years ago.

A total of 37 hearings were held for the trial, during which more than 20 witnesses, including current and former Tepco officials as well as natural disaster and tsunami experts, were questioned. They said TEPCO colluded with regulators to disregard tsunami protection measures.

The company has said it could have been more proactive with safety measures, but that it could not anticipate the massive tsunami that crippled the plant.



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