Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. were indicted Monday for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the tsunami-triggered crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.
The indictment, mandated by an independent panel of citizens after prosecutors decided against bringing charges, seeks to answer in court the question of whether the key Tepco figures should be held criminally responsible for the disaster.
The three executives facing charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, chairman of Tepco at the time, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.
The indictment blames them for injuries to 13 people, including Self-Defense Forces personnel, from hydrogen explosions at the plant, as well as the deaths of 44 patients forced to evacuate from a nearby hospital.
In a statement Monday, Tepco’s public relations office offered a renewed apology over the accident but declined to comment on the indictment because it concerns a criminal case.
The three executives were not taken into custody. They are likely to plead not guilty.
The crisis at the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast started when tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake of March 11, 2011, flooded power supply facilities and crippled reactor cooling systems. Reactors 1, 2 and 3 suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing reactors 1, 3 and 4.
The trial is expected to be long and is unlikely to start before the end of the year, as preparations to compile evidence and points of issue will require a considerable amount of time, sources familiar with the case said.
After prosecutors dropped their charges, the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, an independent committee of citizens, overturned the decision in July 2015, saying the three were responsible because they should have foreseen the risks of major tsunami prior to the disaster.
The prosecutors had determined it was hard for them to predict major tsunami.
The inquest committee has said the former executives received a report by June 2009 that the plant could be hit by tsunami as high as 15.7 meters and that they “failed to take pre-emptive measures knowing the risk of a major tsunami.”
A group of Fukushima residents and other people filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against dozens of government and Tepco officials over their responsibility in connection with the nuclear crisis.
But when the prosecutors decided not to file charges, including against then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the group narrowed its list of targets and asked the committee to examine whether the prosecutors’ decision was appropriate.