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Flawed acquittal of TEPCO execs demands high court review

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Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19.
October 7, 2019
Lawyers appealed a court ruling that acquitted three former top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) of criminal responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The lawyers were appointed to serve as prosecutors in the case after the Tokyo prosecutors’ decision against indicting the former executives was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that they must stand trial.
There has been criticism about appealing court rulings that have found the defendants not guilty, which forces people acquitted of criminal charges to stand trial again.
But many flaws in the Tokyo District Court’s ruling justifies the move made by the lawyers to seek a high court judgment.
For example, the district court asserted that the only way the nuclear accident that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 could have been prevented was if plant operations had been halted before the quake.
But the lawyers referred to measures that could have prevented the disaster if they had been taken, including the construction of a seawall, work to protect key structures from flooding and relocating the plant’s emergency power source to high ground.
Witnesses were questioned to determine the feasibility of these measures.
But the ruling dismissed the argument that these measures, if they had been taken, could have prevented the disaster without examining them meticulously.
As a result, the focus of the ruling on the case against the three former TEPCO executives was on whether they had the obligation to take the drastic step of shutting down the reactors before the Great East Japan Earthquake.
It is obviously an extremely tough decision to make given that such a step will inevitably seriously affect people’s lives.
It is no wonder that many victims of the Fukushima meltdowns and multiple academic experts have raised doubts about the district court decision. Critics say the court changed the focus of the case without good reason.
The court’s judgment on some core nuclear safety issues is also questionable.
The court rejected the credibility of the central government’s long-term earthquake forecast published in 2002.
The forecast said a gigantic earthquake could occur anywhere in wide sea areas stretching from off the Sanriku part of the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, to off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture within 30 years at a probability of around 20 percent.
In dismissing the importance of this prognostication, the ruling pointed to dissenting opinions as well as the fact that neither electric utilities nor the nuclear safety regulators used this projection in assessing nuclear safety measures.
By doing so, the ruling effectively defended the government and the electric power industry against the accusations of omission and negligence, and on those grounds rejected the quake projection made by experts through discussions.
The government and the industry have been accused of failing to make sufficient efforts to secure the safety of nuclear power plants as they have worked in close cooperation to promote atomic energy.
Moreover, the ruling said the law at the time of the accident did not require utilities to “ensure absolute safety” of nuclear plants.
But it was widely assumed that all possible measures were taken to ensure that no severe nuclear accident would take place.
This is not about dealing with such farfetched risks as a huge asteroid hitting the Earth.
In fact, the long-term earthquake projection prompted TEPCO employees in charge of nuclear plant operations to consider possible measures to protect facilities against large tsunami and report them to the company’s management team.
It also led Japan Atomic Power Co., which, like TEPCO, operates a nuclear plant on the Pacific coast, to improve facilities at the plant.
It is highly doubtful whether the district court properly assessed the implications of these facts.
To be fair, it is by no means easy to hold individuals criminally liable for an accident caused by a complicated web of factors related to both organizations and people.
Few doubted the difficulty of proving the guilt of the accused. But the problem is the deeply flawed process and argument leading to the court’s ruling.
Still, the trial has offered valuable insights into the accident as many important facts that were not mentioned in the probes by the government or the Diet have come to light.
The district court was expected to assess the implications of all these facts carefully and explain how they were relevant to the accident and to what extent in language ordinary citizens can clearly understand. But the ruling failed to meet this expectation.
This is why the ruling needs to be reviewed by the high court.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Appeal filed against acquittal of former TEPCO execs

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People demanding a guilty verdict for former top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident rally outside the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 19.
Prosecutors appeal acquittal of former Tepco execs over Fukushima nuclear disaster
Oct 1, 2019
An appeal has been filed with the Tokyo High Court challenging the acquittal of three former Tepco executives over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.
“Letting this decision stand is clearly against justice. Taking into consideration the burden of the victims, it is incumbent on us to demand a judgment by a higher court,” one of the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors said when the appeal was filed Monday.
They had sought five-year prison sentences for the former executives of what is now called Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
Former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and former Vice Presidents Ichiro Takekuro, 73, and Sakae Muto, 69, were acquitted Sept. 19 by the Tokyo District Court on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
They were indicted in 2016 for failing to implement tsunami countermeasures, leading to the deaths of 44 people, including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital, as well as for injuries sustained by 13 people in hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.
Prosecutors claimed the three would have prevented the disaster if they had fulfilled their responsibility to collect information and implement safety measures. Tepco was informed in 2008 that tsunami of up to 15.7 meters could strike the plant based on a 2002 government long-term evaluation of quake risks.
At the district court, presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said in handing down the ruling, “It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators were obliged to predict every possibility related to tsunami and take necessary measures.”
The six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded on March 11, 2011, by tsunami exceeding 10 meters triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.
Reactor units 1, 2 and 3 suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing reactors 1, 3 and 4. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point.
Tepco and the attorneys representing the three former executives declined to comment on the appeal.
 
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In this combined photo, from right, former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, and former TEPCO vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto enter into the Tokyo District Court before a verdict in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, on Sept. 19, 2019.
Appeal filed against acquittal of ex-TEPCO execs over Fukushima crisis
October 1, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — An appeal was filed with the Tokyo High Court on Monday challenging the acquittal of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
“Letting this decision stand is clearly against justice. Taking into consideration the burden of the victims, it is incumbent to demand a judgement by a higher court,” said one of the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors, who had sought five-year prison terms.
Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro, 73, and Sakae Muto, 69, were acquitted Sept. 19 by the Tokyo District Court on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
The three were indicted in 2016 for failing to implement tsunami countermeasures leading to the deaths of 44 people — including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital — as well as for injuries sustained by 13 people in hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Prosecutors claimed the three would have prevented the nuclear disaster if they had fulfilled their responsibility to collect information and implement safety measures. TEPCO was informed in 2008 that tsunami waves of up to 15.7 meters could strike the Fukushima plant based on the government’s long-term evaluation in 2002 of quake risks.
At the district court, Presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said in handing down the ruling, “It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators were obliged to predict every possibility related to tsunami and take necessary measures.”
On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves exceeding 10 meters triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.
The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point.
TEPCO and the defense team of the three former executives both declined to comment on the appeal.
TEPCO was reorganized under Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. in 2016.
 
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Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19.
Lawyers appeal TEPCO acquittals over Fukushima nuclear disaster
October 1, 2019
Lawyers appealed a court ruling that absolved three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. of criminal responsibility for the 2011 nuclear disaster, saying the acquittals deny justice for the victims.
The appeal of the Tokyo District Court’s ruling was submitted to the Tokyo High Court on Sept. 30.
The lawyers, who are serving as prosecutors in the case, said in the appeal, “The ruling not only evaded judgment on the defendants’ important duties and responsibilities to prevent foreseeable damage (to the nuclear plant), but it even denied the possibility that they could foresee the disaster.
“To allow the ruling to be finalized at this stage would significantly go against justice,” their statement said.
Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, a former TEPCO chairman, Ichiro Takekuro, 73, a former vice president, and Sakae Muto, 69, also a former vice president, received mandatory indictments on charges of criminal negligence resulting in deaths and injuries related to the disaster at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The prosecution side had sought five-year prison sentences for the three, arguing that they failed to take action to prevent the accident despite government forecasts that a tsunami exceeding the roughly 10-meter height of the main plant facilities could overwhelm the site.
However, the Tokyo District Court ruled on Sept 19 that the forecasts were unreliable and that the three defendants could not have foreseen a tsunami of that size hitting the nuclear plant.
The ruling said the only way to prevent the accident would have been to shut down the plant well before the disaster struck. The court said it would be difficult to rule that the defendants had a legal responsibility to take such a measure, given the usefulness of nuclear plants in supporting the economy and people’s lives.
The deaths and injuries cited in the indictments occurred during the evacuation of areas near the crippled plant. Forty-four patients who were at Futaba Hospital about 4.5 kilometers from the plant died of malnutrition and dehydration during the evacuation process or later at emergency shelters.
Representatives of nuclear accident victims said they gathered about 14,300 signatures through the Internet and other means for a petition in support of the appeal.
“We want to support the lawyers (who serve as prosecutors) with our full effort and fight for the appeal process,” a representative said Sept. 30.
TEPCO has declined to comment on the appeal.
Tokyo prosecutors had decided not to indict the former executives, citing a lack of evidence. Their decision was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that the three former TEPCO executives must stand trial.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Group launches petition to appeal acquittal of ex-TEPCO execs over Fukushima disaster

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People sign a petition to urge lawyers to file an appeal against the Sept. 19 ruling that acquitted three former Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc. executives of professional negligence causing death or injury over the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, at Koriyama Station in Fukushima Prefecture on Sept. 29, 2019.
September 30, 2019
KORIYAMA, Fukushima — A group supporting a criminal accusation over the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident launched a petition to have lawyers, who served as prosecutors in the trial of former Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc. executives, file an appeal against the Sept. 19 ruling.
The Tokyo District Court acquitted three former TEPCO executives, who were forcibly indicted, of professional negligence causing death or injury over the nuclear meltdowns at the utility’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
On Sept. 29, members of the support group collected signatures near the west exit of Koriyama Station in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama, northeast Japan. Many people including parents accompanied by children and youngsters signed the petition after stopping to listen to the group’s argument.
The group also launched an online petition on Sept. 21, and says it has already gathered over 10,000 signatures.
“Though just 57 people were identified as victims in the trial, we keep in mind that all Fukushima Prefecture residents are victims. We urge that the judicial branch as an independent organization exercise the right judgment in consideration of the victims,” said Kazuyoshi Sato, 66, head of the group.
On Sept. 27, lawyers representing victims submitted a statement deeming the Sept. 19 ruling factually erroneous and demanded lawyers, who served as prosecutors, file an appeal.
The support group will gather signatures until Oct. 2 and submit the petition as “the voice of Fukushima Prefecture residents” to the prosecutors.
(Japanese original by Mina Isogai, Fukushima Bureau)

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Victims File Appeal, Contesting $1,500 Compensation Court Ruling

ghkl.jpgIn this March 11, 2011 file photo, waves are seen washing over a 10-meter-high breakwater and approaching the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Plaintiffs appeal ruling in Fukushima nuclear disaster damages suit

In this March 11, 2011 file photo, waves are seen washing over a 10-meter-high breakwater and approaching the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Lawyers representing approximately 3,800 people suing the state and operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex for damages over the 2011 tsunami-triggered disaster appealed a lower court ruling Monday in hopes of securing greater compensation.
In its Oct. 10 ruling, the Fukushima District Court ordered the state and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay 500 million yen ($4.4 million) to about 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs, an amount less than was sought by the disaster victims.
Also on Monday, the central government and Tepco filed an appeal to the same Sendai High Court arguing they should not be held liable for damages.
Izutaro Managi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the lower court ruling “clearly acknowledged the liability of the state” over the disaster but said that the “level and scope of compensation is insufficient.”
“We will seek compensation that better matches the actual damage” from the disaster, he said.
Managi said that the compensation awarded to the victims in the lower court ruling was far less than the maximum 200,000 yen per person sought by the plaintiffs.
The ruling did not accept claims by some of the plaintiffs, including those in western Fukushima Prefecture, the lawyer added when explaining the reason for the appeal.
The Fukushima District Court ruling was the second of its kind in a series of group lawsuits filed nationwide where the state and Tepco were found liable and ordered to pay damages over the world’s worst nuclear crises since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The court concluded that the state and Tepco failed to take steps to mitigate the risk of the tsunami damage caused by a powerful earthquake on March 11, 2011, even though they were able to foresee the possibility of such a disaster based on a quake assessment issued in 2002.
 
 

Fukushima victims appeal $1,500 compensation payouts

Hundreds of victims of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster have appealed a court ruling hoping to secure larger compensation payouts, after being awarded roughly $1,520 each in a class action lawsuit against the Japanese government and the Fukushima plant operator.
On October 10, Fukushima District Court has ordered the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to pay about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) to some 2,900 victims of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
In its ruling on the lawsuit, filed by more than 3,800 plaintiffs, the court said that the authorities had failed to properly control TEPCO, which was found guilty of neglecting to adopt the necessary safety measures despite knowing of the risk of a massive tsunami in the region as early as 2002.
On Monday, all sides in the case – TEPCO, the government and the victims represented in the class-action lawsuit – challenged the court’s ruling.
Victims of the disaster say that the awarded liability costs do not represent the true amount of suffering reflected by the Fukushima survivors. The court failed to award 200,000 yen ($1,765) per person, which was the sum originally sought by the plaintiffs. The legal team furthermore stressed that in the initial ruling the court rejected claims by some of the victims, which mostly came from western Fukushima prefecture.
The Fukushima District Court ruling “clearly acknowledged the liability of the government” over the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but the “level and scope of compensation is insufficient,” Izutaro Managi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Monday after filing an appeal with the Sendai High Court.
“We will seek compensation that better matches the actual damage,” Managi added, as quoted by Japan Times.
Japan’s central government and TEPCO meanwhile also filed an appeal with the Sendai High Court, claiming that they are not liable to pay any damages to the victims, Japan Today reported.
In its appeal, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency stressed that “it is impossible for the government to accept the court’s judgment as a result of an adjustment by relevant ministries and agencies.”
The October 10 court ruling was the second time a court in Japan has acknowledged the government’s liability for the Fukushima meltdown caused by the quake-triggered tsunami that hit the country in March 2011.
In March this year, Maebashi district court ordered the government and the operator to pay 38.55 million yen ($340,000) in damages to 62 plaintiffs who were evacuated to Gunma Prefecture. About 30 similar lawsuits involving 12,000 people are pending across the country.
 
 

Plaintiffs file appeal to win bigger payout over Fukushima nuclear disaster

Lawyers representing victims of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster hold up victory banners in front of the Fukushima District Court on Oct. 10.
KYODO – Lawyers representing approximately 3,800 people suing the government and Tepco for damages over the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster have appealed a lower court ruling in hopes of securing greater compensation.
Izutaro Managi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Monday after the appeal was filed in the Sendai High Court that the lower court ruling “clearly acknowledged the liability of the government” over the disaster, but the “level and scope of compensation is insufficient.”
“We will seek compensation that better matches the actual damage” from the disaster, he said.
In its Oct. 10 ruling, the Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay ¥500 million to about 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs, less than sought by the disaster victims.
The central government and Tepco also filed an appeal with the Sendai High Court arguing they should not be held liable for damages.
Managi said the compensation awarded by the lower court was far less than the maximum ¥200,000 per person sought by the plaintiffs.
The ruling did not accept claims by some of the plaintiffs, including those in western Fukushima Prefecture, he added when explaining the reason for the appeal.
The Fukushima District Court ruling was the second of its kind in a series of group lawsuits filed nationwide in which the government and Tepco were found liable and ordered to pay damages over the nuclear crisis.
The court concluded that the government and Tepco failed to take steps to mitigate the tsunami risk, even though they were able to foresee the possibility of such a disaster based on a quake assessment issued in 2002.

October 25, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Court rejects appeal to halt operations of Sendai reactors

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Lawyers hold up signs describing the April 6 ruling by the Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court as being unjust.

MIYAZAKI–A high court here rejected an appeal by Kyushu residents seeking to shut down the only two nuclear reactors operating in Japan, ruling that it is impossible to secure absolute safety with nuclear energy.

Presiding Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa of the Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court said April 6 that current science and technology standards cannot reach a level of safety in which no radioactive materials are emitted regardless of the severity of the accident at a nuclear plant.

“A judgment has to be made based on the standard of what level of danger a society would be willing to live with,” Nishikawa said.

The court did not set any danger level, but it did rule that there was no convincing reason to issue a temporary injunction against the operations of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Sendai plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, in southern Japan.

The plaintiffs argued that the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety standards, established after the disaster unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2011, underestimated possible damage to the plant caused by a powerful earthquake.

Nishikawa dismissed the argument, saying the standards “were at an extremely high level of rationality because it was needed to secure safety.”

Nishikawa, however, did describe as “irrational” the NRA’s assessment of volcanic eruption risk near the Sendai nuclear plant. That assessment was preconditioned on predicting the timing and scale of volcanic activity that would cause extensive damage to a wide area.

But the judge added that there was no basis for believing that such an eruption might occur while the plant was in operation. He concluded that “a political decision” would have to be made about whether to consider the risks related to such eruptions.

The plaintiffs, from the three Kyushu prefectures of Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Miyazaki, are considering appealing the latest ruling to the Supreme Court.

Kyushu Electric Power issued a statement on April 6 that said the ruling acknowledged the company’s past arguments that safety of the plant had been secured.

Setting a standard for an acceptable danger level could untangle the differing court decisions on the operations of nuclear reactors.

In March, for example, the Otsu District Court raised doubts about the NRA’s safety standards and ordered an injunction against two reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture in central Japan.

The lawsuit for an injunction against the Sendai plant was filed with the Kagoshima District Court in May 2014.

The district court rejected the plaintiffs’ request in April 2015. A few months later, in August, the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant became the first in Japan to resume operations under the new safety standards. The No. 2 reactor was restarted in October.

A major point of contention in the lawsuit was Kyushu Electric Power’s estimate of the largest possible quake that could hit the Sendai plant.

The plaintiffs argued that the utility’s figure, based on an average of past quakes, was defective because it underestimated the potential of possible future quakes. The residents also said their rights would be violated if a major accident occurred at the Sendai plant.

Kyushu Electric Power countered that its estimate was based on the new safety standards that reflected the latest knowledge about earthquakes.

The company said there was no specific danger of a major accident at the plant because the anti-quake measures implemented were sufficient.

The plaintiffs had also cited problems with the evacuation plans for the Sendai plant that could endanger their human rights.

But Nishikawa pointed to the approval given by the Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Commission to the evacuation plan, which was described as specific and rational because it laid out measures according to distance from the nuclear plant.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201604060045.html

 

 

April 6, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment