Court rejects lawsuit over Monju coverup suicide

Kyodo News

News photo
Toshiko Nishimura speaks at a news conference Monday after the Tokyo District Court rejected her suit against the operator of the Monju nuclear reactor. At left is a portrait of her late husband Shigeo. KYODO PHOTO
The family of Shigeo Nishimura, then a 49-year-old deputy general affairs chief at the government-run Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. – , argued he committed suicide in 1996 because Donen forced him to lie at a news conference about its attempt to conceal video footage of damage caused by the leak.

But the presiding judge in the case, Tsutomu Yamazaki, said there was no objective evidence proving that Donen, the predecessor of the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, forced Nishimura to lie.

Nishimura’s 61-year-old widow, Toshiko, and her two sons said they plan to appeal.

The experimental reactor on the Sea of Japan coast has been idle since Dec. 8, 1995, when a major sodium leak caused a fire.

Although nobody was injured in the accident, the operator was lambasted for concealing video footage and falsifying reports on the attempted coverup.

The coverup was revealed in probes by the Fukui Prefectural Government and the old Science and Technology Agency, which found that Donen concealed footage of the leak site taken hours after the accident, and released a heavily edited version of other footage taken in the afternoon the day after the leak. Nishimura was asked to carry out an internal probe into how the coverup attempt took place.

During a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 12, 1996, Nishimura said Donen had found out that its own officials were involved in the coverup on Jan. 10. But his own investigative team had known about headquarters’ involvement as early as Dec. 25.

Nishimura jumped to his death from a hotel room the next morning.

In a lawsuit filed in 2004, Nishimura’s family charged that his superiors forced him to lie at the news conference because the institute feared that it would get into more trouble for disclosing the headquarters revelation more than two weeks after learning about it.

The family also said that even though Nishimura cornered himself with the lie, Donen is still negligent because it failed to ensure the safety of its workers by preventing his suicide.

The Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute denied its predecessor forced Nishimura to lie. It is not yet clear why Nishimura committed suicide, but Donen could not have foreseen the incident because there were no visible signs he was likely to commit such an act, the institute told the court.

The court determined that there is no evidence to suggest that someone forced Nishimura to lie and said his suicide note made no mention of any complaint against or criticism of Donen.

It is reasonable to believe that Nishimura himself just made a mistake — either intentionally or for some other reason — while speaking at the news conference, Judge Yamazaki said.

However, the judge pointed out that it was “unnatural” Donen did not immediately try to correct Nishimura’s account after the news conference.

Toshiko Nishimura said she cannot accept the ruling.

“If my husband had said something wrong, other Donen officials who attended the news conference could have corrected the information. I suspect that they did not because of some intentions (on the part of Donen),” Nishimura said, accusing the nuclear institute of “failing to explain what really happened and trying to keep everything under wraps.”