National / Crime & Legal

Ex-Tepco execs' lawyers make final plea for acquittal over negligence in Fukushima nuclear crisis

Kyodo

Lawyers for three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. called for their acquittal in their final defense plea on Tuesday in a negligence case stemming from the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011.

The defense team said that it was impossible for them to foresee the massive tsunami that engulfed the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and caused fuel meltdowns following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the coastal Tohoku region.

The day after the nation marked the eighth anniversary of the March 11, 2011, disasters, the lawyers for Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, Tepco chairman at the time of the crisis, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, and Sakae Muto, 68, both vice presidents, told the Tokyo District Court they “do not recognize any predictability in the disaster.”

The three men have been indicted for allegedly failing to take measures against the massive tsunami and causing the deaths of 44 hospital inpatients and injuries to 13 others during the evacuations prompted by fuel meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the plant.

Court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors have called for five-year prison terms for the three, claiming they could have prevented the nuclear disaster had they fulfilled their responsibilities in collecting information and taking safety measures.

Tepco had estimated that a tsunami up to 15.7 meters could strike the southern side of the Fukushima plant based on the government’s long-term evaluation of quake risks in 2002, but did not take specific safety measures before the Tohoku earthquake occurred.

The defense team argued they could not predict a tsunami hitting the eastern side of the plant based on the government evaluation and said installing coastal levees would not have prevented the disaster.

The three were charged with professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries in 2016 by the court-appointed lawyers after an independent panel of citizens mandated indictment.

The panel’s decision came after Tokyo prosecutors decided against charging the three over the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.

A total of 37 hearings have been held since last June, during which many current and former Tepco officials, as well as earthquake and tsunami experts, were questioned.

The six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami triggered by the quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.

The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the building housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units.

As a result, around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point, and more than 40,000 people remain displaced today.