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Prosecutors set to decide whether to indict Tepco execs over nuclear disaster

Reuters

Prosecutors must decide this month whether to charge Tokyo Electric Power Co. executives over their handling of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster, in a process that could drag the company into criminal court.

The judicial review is unlikely to see Tepco former executives go to prison, legal experts say, but rehashing details of the meltdowns and explosions that followed the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami will cast a harsh light on the struggling utility and will not help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unpopular effort to restart the nation’s idled reactors.

The Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office declined last year to charge more than 30 Tepco and government officials after investigating a criminal complaint from residents, who said officials ignored the risks to the Fukushima No. 1 plant from natural disasters and failed to respond appropriately when crisis struck.

But a special citizens’ panel opened another legal front in July, asking prosecutors to consider charges of criminal negligence against three executives over their handling of the disaster.

Under the review system, the prosecutors must respond by Thursday.

If they again decline to take up the case, as some experts expect, the 11-member panel of unidentified citizens can order prosecutors to indict, if eight members vote in favor.

Prosecutorial Review Commissions, made up of citizen appointees, are a rarely used but high-profile feature of the legal system introduced after World War II to curb bureaucratic overreach. In 2009, they were given the power to force prosecutions.

A panel in 2011 forced the prosecution of former opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa over political funding. He was acquitted in 2012.

Tepco already faces a string of civil suits, the decades-long and massively expensive decommissioning of Fukushima No. 1 and a struggle to restart its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

All 48 of Japan’s reactors have been idle for more than a year under a safety regime that incorporated the lessons of Fukushima, where 160,000 people were forced to flee from a huge plume of radioactive material that left large areas uninhabitable for decades.

Backed by Abe’s pro-nuclear administration, Kyushu Electric Power Co. recently won approval from safety regulators to restart the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture but faces opposition from some nearby communities.

Nationwide, a majority of people has consistently opposed restarting nuclear power, according to opinion polls.

The citizens’ panel said Tsunehisa Katsumata, Tepco chairman at the time of the disaster, and former Executive Vice Presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro failed to take measures to protect Fukushima No. 1 despite warnings it faced big tsunami.

The prosecutors are unlikely to change their minds, said Shin Ushijima, an attorney and former public prosecutor.

“Prosecutors exhaust all means in their investigations and certainly would have in a special case like this, so if they were convinced they could not prosecute Katsumata and the others earlier, they will not reach a decision to indict now,” he said.

“There is a 50 percent chance that some or all of the three ex-Tepco executives will be indicted and 99.9 percent chance those indicted will be found not guilty,” Ushijima said.

“How can you prove one person, Katsumata for example, is liable or guilty, when such a big organization was behind such a large accident?”

Tepco faces huge compensation claims and has set aside just a fraction of the funds needed to decommission Fukushima No. 1.

A court recently ordered the utility to pay compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself after being forced from her home because of the disaster. A group of Fukushima workers is also suing the company for unpaid wages.

  • Sasori

    In the land of do-nothing, expect more of the same.

  • doryinaz

    I think HARI KARI should make a big comeback….now…start with the CEO!

    • phu

      According to another comment of yours, you’re 63 years old and you were a teacher for 14 years… and this is the best you can come up with for dealing with the results of a major natural and industrial disaster? Mass suicide?*

      I shudder to think that you were responsible for helping shape young minds. You should be ashamed of yourself, but somehow I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

      * Which assumes you meant harakiri, since you failed to get the romanization right on the most important word in your comment.

  • rossdorn

    Nobody gives a damn if an 85 year old goes to jail, or even bows down to the NTT camers on the seven o clock news once more…

    Hold these people who have profited from this company, the shareholders, responsible for their negligence, because of prioritising their greed!

    So these people can keep their profits, the taxpayer has to pay for the damage done?
    And the Tepcos and others get to run some more of those plants, so the taxpayer has to pay those expenses too, and one or two or three very old man are found guilty????

    And on the other hand… the simple truth is, that any people who lets itsself be treated like that from their government, which on top of it all, they have kept re-electing again and again, such a people does not deserve any different.

    • phu

      Shareholders? Do you understand how publicly traded companies work? As of March 2014, TEPCO had over 600,000 shareholders, the vast majority of which — over 99% — are not represented directly (or, in most cases, indirectly) in corporate governance.*

      Your generalizations are pretty ridiculous. All of the shareholders should be held responsible, everyone under a questionable government (read: all governments) deserves it because they’ve collectively brought it on themselves, and absolutely nobody cares if old men go to jail or apologize.

      Obviously they DO care. Try reading the article before commenting on it. If nobody cared, this wouldn’t STILL be going on three and a half years later.

      The whole situation is stupid, and this citizens’ panel idiocy is a ridiculous waste of time and resources, but it proves that at least some people definitely do want to see punishment handed out directly to individuals.

      * http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/corpinfo/ir/stock/stock-e.html

      • rossdorn

        I expected a little more understanding on a subject like that.

        When someone says “hold the shareholders responsible”, that in the world of normal people simply means, do not transfer the losses to the taxpayer, but let the company pay for its problems.
        That will then what comes down to the shareholders.

        In the world that is called: Privatising profits, socialising losses. Never heard, ey?

        In countries that are run by a mafia to demand this is of course an absurd idea…

  • Starviking

    And who else should be included? The DPJ Defense Minister who turned back the TEPCO management team who were trying to reach Tokyo to contact the plant and the government?

    How about PM Kan, who instead of tying to provide a good atmosphere for serious discussions on the unfolding accident decided to rant and rave at people? Who also disrupted operations at the plant by flying in to inspect it himself? Who also tried to delay the use of seawater to cool the reactors because he feared that the minuscule amount of uranium in the seawater would cause a recriticality?

    Any prosecution is going to involve a whole lot more than just TEPCO.

    • phu

      It’s vexing to watch these misguided crusades. People just can’t seem to get over the idea that there’s just no good way to pin the blame for this on specific individuals without indicting half the bureaucracy, current and past, as well as half of the management in every part of the Japanese nuclear power industry.

  • keratomileusis

    Don’t hold your breath! I predict nothing will happen.

  • apeman2502

    TheJapanese did not build the Fukushima facility on the beach in the most violent tsunami zone on earth. The Rockefellers and GE did with Skull and Bones Society, especially Bush41 managing international financing. Study Japanese political science with its many assassinations to see why the Fukushima facility was destroyed. Do your homework or flunk.