Judicial review panel votes to indict ex-Tepco execs


Staff Writer

Three former top executives at Tokyo Electric Power Co. are set to be hauled into court over their alleged responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution voted Friday that Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tepco at the time of the disaster, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, should be indicted for professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The announcement by the panel of citizens came more than four years after the massive tsunami of March 11, 2011, knocked out the critical cooling functions at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, leading to three of the six reactors there melting down.

Prosecutors have twice previously decided not to seek such indictments, saying Tepco could not have expected such a massive tsunami to hit the nuclear plant and cripple its critical safety systems.

But on Friday the committee overrode the prosecutors’ decisions for a second time, which will lead to a compulsory indictment of the three Tepco executives. They were all responsible for major disaster prevention planning.

Holding a news conference at the Tokyo District Court, representatives of a group of Fukushima residents and others who have filed criminal complaints against the executives said they were elated.

“I want (the Tepco executives) to tell the truth” during the upcoming trials, said Ruiko Muto.

Muto said many elderly people who evacuated from the radiation-contaminated areas have since died in shelters away from their hometowns, while numerous people still living in Fukushima are being exposed to radiation via contaminated materials from the heavily damaged plant.

Muto said many people outside the prefecture have the impression that the nuclear crisis is over.

“If who should be held responsible is not made clear, (the dead) victims won’t rest in peace,” she added.

Before the catastrophe, Tepco had conducted simulations and concluded that critical facilities at Fukushima No. 1 would be flooded and critically damaged if a major earthquake struck off the Tohoku coast and tsunami of more than 10 meters in height hit the plant.

But prosecutors concluded that it was impossible for Tepco to predict such gigantic tsunami would actually hit the plant, as opinions from quake experts were not established regarding the possibility of such a powerful quake.

The judicial review committee said the Tepco executives were obliged to prepare for a worst-case scenario even if the possibility of such a disaster was considered very small.

The simulations provided a good indication that a major crisis was possible, but the three neglected their obligation to prepare for such an eventuality, the committee concluded in a 30-page document explaining its decision.

The panel pointed out that 44 patients who were forced to evacuate from a hospital located 4.5 km from Fukushima No. 1 died after their health conditions deteriorated because of the move. The committee alleged that their deaths were caused by the meltdown crisis.

Meanwhile, no health damage has so far been confirmed to have been caused by radiation from contaminated materials released from the plant.

The committee said one person who was exposed to radiation from contaminated materials has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but a causal link with the meltdown disaster has not been established.

The central government is preparing to allow the reactivation of some commercial reactors suspended in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

Muto said she hopes the findings in the upcoming trials will prompt a change in the national nuclear policy and lead to the abolition of all nuclear power plants.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Accountability. Or scapegoating. The disaster was a systemic failure. There should be systemic accountability and not symbolic accountability.

    • Oliver Mackie

      So prosecute ‘the system’?

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        What a stupid comment.

      • Oliver Mackie

        So explain ‘systematic accountability.’ You have suggested that the prosecution of people at the top of the system is not accountability but scapegoating. It’s a refreshing change, I’ll concede: usually people are complaining that there is no accountability in the system because the people with the power at the top don’t get held accountable (i.e. prosecuted.) So, I’ll ask again, what would you like to see happen in terms of systematic accountability?

    • leconfidant

      When a problem is systemic,
      every single person points over their shoulder,
      saying “仕方がない、仕方がない…”,
      “There’s nothing I can do about it…”
      The staff say they’re were just following orders.
      Bosses say they didn’t know what was going on on the ground floor.

      As soon as they know they will be held personally accountable,
      not just for following orders,
      but for what’s actually going on,
      it’s amazing how people start noticing
      that what they’re doing is insane
      and having a little word with their bosses about it
      and even saying the magic little word, “No”.

      The right place to start is at the top,
      because they are the ones who are responsible
      for checking that the system is really working
      and changing it when necessary.

      All human systems are inhabited.

  • Peter Yawei Zhang

    The gov will do anything for promoting the image for Tepco as a group, even with sacrifices of several individual execs

  • Richard Solomon

    TEPCO had been informed by experts of the dangers involved some years before March 2011 but chose not to include those opinions in its annual reports. Holding some execs accountable is way overdue!

  • rlhailssrpe

    I comment the Japanese, particularly their legal system which gives citizens a voice in major cases. These executives should stand trial and evidence given.

    This coast gave the world the name of horror, tsunami. The plant siting technical work was done in the slide rule era, in the 1960s, prior to man’s understanding of tectonic plate theory and computer modeling. It was a cheap, but poor decision to locate vital emergency electrical gear in the basement. But after the modern reassessment, that the basement might flood, it would have been evident that an inland, elevated back up system and/ or fast dispatch ship(s) steaming out of Tokyo, one of the world’s most modern ports could have saved that plant. I remember my shudder as I viewed the photos of the bay on the day after; not a rowboat. A fleet of emergency responders should have been tied to preexisting preplanned, pre practised life lines. One modest emergency generator could have saved it all.

    TEPCO management was criminally stupid. They were incompetent in protecting their company, and nation. In a more honorable time, when Japanese leaders faced the facts of life and death, every board member would have been handed a Wakizashi sword. Japan has a better system today; they should use it.