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Prosecutors grill nuclear safety chief over Fukushima

AFP-JIJI

In a possible prelude to criminal charges, prosecutors have questioned Haruki Madarame, former chief of the now-dissolved Nuclear Safety Commission, about delays in announcing radiation fallout data when the Fukushima crisis began and the failure to protect power plants against tsunami, news reports said Sunday.

Madarame was responsible for giving the government technical advice on the crisis, NHK quoted sources as saying. He appeared voluntarily for questioning and was apparently asked to explain how he dealt with the disaster, the public broadcaster said.

Fukushima residents have filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors against Madarame on suspicion of professional negligence that resulted in deaths and injuries.

The complaint alleges that Madarame was responsible for delaying the public release of computerized projections that showed how radioactive fallout from the meltdowns might spread, the NHK report said.

It also reportedly faults him for failing to take the steps necessary to shield the plant against the tsunami that triggered the meltdowns in the first place.

NHK said prosecutors have also questioned executives of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., including former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, but expert observers say it was far from clear if any individuals could be charged over the disaster, which tainted wide swaths of the agriculturally productive prefecture.

A report last July by a Diet investigation panel said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience.” Tepco has admitted it played down known tsunami risks for fear of the political, financial and reputational damage.