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Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. pleaded not guilty over the 2011 meltdowns at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the first appeal trial hearing Tuesday.

The appeal trial at Tokyo High Court started after a 2019 district court ruling found the three — former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 81, and two former Executive Vice Presidents Ichiro Takekuro, 75, and Sakae Muto, 71 — not guilty of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Katsumata did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, citing health issues.

The three had been indicted in 2016 by lawyers appointed to act as prosecutors after a prosecution inquest panel comprising ordinary citizens overrode twice public prosecutors’ decisions not to charge them.

In the nuclear accident, the power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, had an unprecedented triple meltdown after it was hit by the March 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami.

Many Fukushima residents had to evacuate as large amounts of radioactive substances were released. The number of such evacuees exceeded 160,000 in 2012.

In the appeal trial, the lawyers acting as prosecutors are seeking the reversal of the Tokyo District Court decision, while the defense side is asking for the dismissal of the appeal.

The acting prosecutors said the district court made the fundamental mistake of denying the reliability of a government body’s long-term assessments of earthquake and tsunami risks.

The court was also wrong to say that the only possible way that would have prevented the nuclear accident was to halt the power plant, the acting prosecutors said.

The acting prosecutors criticized the former executives for “making no attempt” to take measures to prevent such accidents, including the construction of a seawall.

Meanwhile, the defense saw no problem with the 2019 ruling, saying that the long-term assessments were based on inconsistent data and methods.

The three defendants were indicted for continuing to operate the plant though they were able to foresee the dangers of tsunami, resulting in the deaths of 44 patients at a nearby hospital who were forced to evacuate due to the accident.

The district court in September 2019 acquitted the three, saying that it was impossible to foresee tsunami large enough to oblige them to halt the power plant.

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