Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who led the government’s response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, said Wednesday he shouldn’t be held criminally liable for the crisis, sources said.
Resident groups across Japan, mainly in Fukushima Prefecture, have filed complaints pressing for criminal charges to be levied against 40 people, including Kan and members of his Cabinet at the time, for alleged professional negligence resulting in injuries. But the former prime minister said in a document submitted to prosecutors through his lawyers that “there was no problem” with his immediate response to the then-unfolding meltdown crisis, the sources said.
The complainants have accused Kan and two of his ministers of failing to promptly order Tokyo Electric Power Co. to vent the reactors it was unable to safely shut down at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to lessen their internal pressure before hydrogen explosions injured workers.
The two Cabinet members are then-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda, the current head of the Democratic Party of Japan, and then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. Kan served as prime minister from June 2010 through September 2011.
Kan’s visit to the plant on the morning of March 12, 2011, the day after it was crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, allegedly distracted workers who should have been focused on containing the unfolding triple-meltdown crisis.
In the document, Kan said he had given the green light to venting operations as requested by Tepco before visiting the plant and claimed his trip to the facility posed no problems.
A government-appointed panel investigating the nuclear disaster concluded in July 2012 that Kan could have dispatched other officials for an on-site inspection, but added that his visit did not affect the venting operations.
After Kaieda and Edano submit their denials of wrongdoing, prosecutors are expected to wrap up their investigation launched last August into the alleged negligence without indicting any of the 40 people, the sources said.
The 40 also include then-Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and President Masataka Shimizu, and Haruki Madarame, who chaired the now-defunct Nuclear Safety Commission.
The prosecutors have decided, based on the testimony of tsunami experts, that the government and Tepco could not have expected such large tsunami due to the “lack of unified knowledge” on the potential height of the waves. Previous reports, however, said both Tepco and government regulators were aware of the tsunami risks and of the plant’s inadequate defenses.
If the prosecutors refrain from handing down charges, the claimants plan to ask an 11-member independent panel to seek indictments against the government and Tepco officials.
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