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Ex-TEPCO Executive Downplays Role in Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown

Three TEPCO leaders are on trial for allegedly delaying tsunami preparation measures.
 
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TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, center, Vice President Takashi Fujimoto, second from left, Sakae Muto, second from right, and others bow before a news conference at the company’s head office in Tokyo, Japan (March 30, 2011).
October 31, 2018
Prosecutors at Tokyo Metropolitan District Court continue to piece together the timeline that led Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to hold off on securing the plant against its worst-case tsunami scenario.
Despite TEPCO staff being assigned to calculate the extent of the tsunami threat, their findings were ignored. Top TEPCO officials are now fighting criminal negligence charges for allegedly neglecting tsunami prevention initiatives.
Experts say the impact of the devastating tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, triggering the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, could have been prevented if sufficient countermeasures were taken. The lengthy criminal trial finished its 32nd session in late October, revealing contradictions in the managerial awareness of the long-term tsunami risks and a controversial shift in the company attitude toward installing appropriate measures.
Former CEO Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, and former Executive Vice Presidents Sakae Muto, 68, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, were indicted two years ago on charges of professional negligence resulting in death. All three have pleaded not guilty based on the uncertainty of predicting an “unthinkable” earthquake, which could occur once every thousand years.
Muto bowed his head in front of the judge and offered an apology to those who lost their lives, their families, and those forced to evacuate. From the outset, his initial apology seemed like an admission of responsibility. But it didn’t take long for Muto to maintain his innocence, saying he didn’t recall being briefed on a destructive earthquake or the need for new safety steps.
However, the cross-examination of witnesses at previous court sessions exposed holes in Muta’s pre-hearing affidavit and his statements made in court. TEPCO official Kazuhiko Yamashita, in charge of anti-earthquake measures at the time, gave evidence saying all three officials joined an imperial court meeting in February 2008, where they acknowledged the prediction of a 7.7-meter high tsunami and instructed the building of a 10-meter seawall. The meeting is said to have stressed that new tsunami measures were needed at Fukushima Nuclear Plant based on the long-term evaluation of the country and a hard copy of the report was also distributed to officials. However, in Muto’s affidavit, he originally claimed there was “absolutely no report” and vehemently denied tsunami countermeasures for Fukushima Nuclear Plant were a topic of discussion in the meeting,
An unexpected policy shift away from tsunami preparedness materialized when the TEPCO civil engineering team recalculated the tsunami height risk to 15.7 meters. The team reported the findings to Muto in June the same year. Rather than accelerating earthquake resistance plans, however, as construction proposals ballooned from original estimates and with the risk of unwanted attention on the nuclear power plant’s safety prospects, Yamashita says he was given orders by Muto to scrap the plans. Muto then consulted the Japan Society of Civil Engineers to reassess the findings for a second opinion.
Muto explained in court that he was uncertain of the report’s credibility and that it was natural to gather information on the many aspects he couldn’t make sense of. He repeatedly denied that the move indicated a desire to postpone new safety measures but said it stemmed from lack of alternatives. According to Muto, he didn’t have authority to make decisions over the company in that way.
The Great Eastern Earthquake of March 2011 knocked out power supplies and damaged back up generators, causing vital cooling systems at the nuclear plan to fail. Three reactor cores overheated and began to leak radiation. Seven years on, some 40,000 residents who were forced to flee their homes in Fukushima prefecture are still unable to return to their houses, which have fallen to ruin in the no-go zone. The ongoing trial, propelled largely by a group of Fukushima plaintiffs, offers a small chance at gaining closure and much needed background into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
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November 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting tsunami countermeasures on hold at Fukushima nuke plant ‘natural’: ex-TEPCO VP

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 Ichiro Takekuro, a former vice president at Tokyo Electric Power Co., enters the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in this June 30, 2017
October 20, 2018
TOKYO — A former vice president at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) told a court here on Oct. 19 that it was “natural” for the utility to put tsunami countermeasures at the plant on hold while it consulted experts.
Ichiro Takekuro, 72, is under indictment on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the nuclear disaster that broke out after tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. His testimony at the Tokyo District Court backed fellow defendant Sakae Muto, 68, who made the decision on the tsunami countermeasures.
TEPCO estimated in March 2008 that tsunami waves up to 15.7 meters high could hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, based on a long-term evaluation made by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002. While being aware of the company’s estimate, Muto put tsunami countermeasures on hold in July 2008 and instructed subordinates to ask experts to evaluate the reliability of the long-term evaluation.
A key point of contention in the trial is whether the Muto’s decision constituted “postponement” of countermeasures.
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 Sakae Muto, a former vice president at Tokyo Electric Power Co., enters the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in this June 30, 2017
 
Muto told earlier court hearings that he had informed Takekuro in August 2008 of the company’s maximum tsunami height estimate. However, Takekuro told the Oct. 19 hearing that he had no recollection of that, adding that he heard the estimate from another subordinate sometime in April or May 2009.
With regard to the government’s long-term evaluation, Takekuro said, “I heard that it wasn’t supported by specific proof. I thought thorough discussion was necessary if there were unclear factors,” again justifying Muto’s decision.
As to TEPCO’s estimation that 15.7-meter tsunami waves could hit the power station, Takekuro said he “didn’t feel any sense of urgency.”
Takekuro is standing trial along with Muto and former TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, over the nuclear crisis.
Prosecutors had abandoned indicting the three. However, court-appointed lawyers indicted them after a prosecution inquest panel deemed twice that they deserved to stand trial.

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Denials dominate 1st trial questioning of ex-TEPCO VP over tsunami-triggered nuke disaster

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Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vice President Sakae Muto
 
October 17, 2018
TOKYO — Denials of allegations dominated the questioning on Oct. 16 of former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) vice president Sakae Muto in the criminal trial he and other ex-TEPCO leaders face over their responsibility to predict and prevent damage caused by the 2011 tsunami that triggered an unprecedented nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.
“The charge that I delayed (tsunami countermeasures) is outrageous,” said Muto, 68, during the questioning at the Tokyo District Court. He repeated emphatic rebuttals against the prosecution’s argument that the damage could have been avoided if he had taken appropriate actions earlier.
Muto and two other defendants — former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72 — stand accused of professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries of evacuees from the nuclear disaster. They were indicted in 2016 by lawyers serving as prosecutors after public prosecutors refused to do so twice and the prosecution inquest committee shot down those refusals.
A massive tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 hit TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, cutting the facility off the power grid and ruining emergency power generators. The prolonged blackout made it impossible to cool down the nuclear fuel cores at three reactors, triggering their meltdowns and the release of massive amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. As a result, hundreds of thousands of nearby residents, including elderly patients, were forced to flee, with dozens dying and others getting injured in the process.
During the questioning on Oct. 16, Muto replied “Not at all” on many occasions when defense lawyers asked him if he procrastinated on introducing measures to protect the nuclear station from potential high tsunami waves three years before the 2011 incident.
When asked by lawyers serving as prosecutors about the exchange he had with his subordinate at the time tsunami countermeasures were discussed, Muto insisted, “I do not recall.” When his answer was cut short by the prosecution, Muto indicated his dissatisfaction, crossing his arms with a big sigh.
According to past testimonies in the trial that began in June last year, Muto and other top TEPCO officials heard reports from subordinates about the need for tsunami countermeasures at the Fukushima plant, and they approved those steps. Muto, however, told the court that the top-level meeting was “for information sharing” and not for decision-making. The defendant also denied that he was briefed on such measures.
The former TEPCO vice president did apologize at the beginning of the questioning, saying, “To the many people who lost their lives, their family members or those who were forced to evacuate their homes, I have caused you great trouble that cannot be expressed in words.” Muto, clad in a dark suit, then stood up, bowed deeply and stated, “I extend my deepest apologies. I am very sorry about what happened.”
(Japanese original by Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department, and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes but denies being told of need for tsunami steps

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Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vice President Sakae Muto.

Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes as defendant questioning begins in Fukushima nuclear disaster trial

October 16, 2018
TOKYO — A former vice president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) apologized on Oct. 16 during court questioning of three ex-TEPCO top officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Defendant Sakae Muto, 68, said, “To the many people who lost their lives, their family members or those who were forced to evacuate their homes, I have caused you great pain that cannot be expressed in words, and I extend my deepest apologies. I am very sorry about what happened.”
The questioning of Muto at the Tokyo District Court over the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in northern Japan is scheduled to continue until the evening, with plans to resume on Oct. 17.
The other former executives indicted in the criminal trial are 78-year-old former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72. This trial marks the first time that the three top officials will be questioned in detail in a court of law about their responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
According to the indictment, while the three were aware of the possibility of a large tsunami hitting the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant, they neglected to take countermeasures, leading to the March 2011 accident. As a result, they are thought to have caused the deaths of 44 patients who had to evacuate from Futaba Hospital in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, near the power plant for a long period of time due to the accident, among other charges.
At the first hearing of the trial in June 2017, Muto said, “Looking back now, there was no way of predicting that such an accident could occur. I do not believe we are responsible.” The other two defendants are also maintaining their innocence in the matter.
Former vice president Takekuro will be questioned on Oct. 19, followed by former chairman Katsumata on Oct. 20.
(Japanese original by Masanori Makita, City News Department, and Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department)
 
 
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Sakae Muto, former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., in January

Ex-TEPCO exec denies being told of need for tsunami steps

October 16, 2018
A former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. refused to take any responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, testifying in court Oct. 16 that he was never made aware of the possibility of destructive tsunami striking the facility and, therefore, did not authorize countermeasures.
Sakae Muto, 68, is on trial on a charge of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, a former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, another former TEPCO vice president.
Towering tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake inundated the coastal complex, knocking out cooling systems and triggering a triple meltdown.
Muto denied in the Tokyo District Court that he and the two other top executives once gave the green light for countermeasures against a powerful tsunami three years before the disaster occurred.
“We were never notified that such a thing could happen,” Muto stated.
To prove negligence, prosecutors must show that top executives could have reasonably predicted the scale of the tsunami that swamped the plant, setting off the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Muto’s testimony followed oral statements given in a previous court hearing by Kazuhiko Yamashita, head of TEPCO’s center tasked with compiling anti-earthquake measures.
In the statetments, Yamashita said he notified Muto, Katsumata and Takekuro in a February 2008 meeting that the height of a powerful tsunami predicted to hit the site would be at least 7.7 meters.
Yamashita’s team arrived at the figure using a simplified calculation based on the long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.
Yamashita said in his statements that he took it that the three executives understood his team’s projection was based on a government assessment and that they approved taking anti-tsunami measures.
Yamashita’s statements were made to prosecutors between 2012 and 2014, when he was under investigation in connection with the nuclear disaster. The court accepted them as evidence.
A TEPCO subsidiary’s civil engineering team came up with a figure of 15.7 meters after conducting a more detailed study.
The update was conveyed to TEPCO executives in June that year. But Muto, who was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division, instructed subordinates the following month to shelve the anti-tsunami measures, according to witnesses who testified in previous hearings.
Asked about the February meeting, Muto denied that he was notified destructive tsunami could strike, or safety steps were required.
“No such topics were raised during the meeting,” he stated.
Muto also characterized the meeting that included Katsumata and Takekuro as “not one to make a decision as an organization, but one to share information.”
With regard to the projection of 15.7 meters, Muto said, “I was briefed that the (government’s) long-term assessment is not credible and thought that no new scientific expertise was available.”
He also rejected suggestions that he postponed taking anti-tsunami measures.
“I simply thought it would be difficult to come up with a design for a strong sea wall straight away,” he said.
Asked whether it was possible that his division alone was empowered to halt plant operations in anticipation of encroaching danger, he emphatically denied this was so.
He said a decision of such gravity is “too weighty in terms of business management that the nuclear power and plant siting division’s decision alone cannot make it happen.”
Muto went on to state: “It would have been necessary for the division to consult with not only many divisions and sections of our company, but also other utilities and central and local governments and explain to them the grounds and the need to halt operations.”
He started his testimony by offering a “deep apology” for causing “trouble beyond description” to people affected by the nuclear disaster.
The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s reactor buildings sit on elevated land 10 meters above sea level. The tsunami spawned by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake reached 15.5 meters around the reactor buildings, according to traces left there.
Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the trio should be indicted.

October 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Whether tsunami predictable, damage avoidable focus of TEPCO nuclear disaster trial

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The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) headquarters building in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward is seen from Shiodome City Center in Tokyo’s Minato Ward in this file photo taken on Aug. 24, 2011.
 
October 15, 2018
TOKYO — The criminal trial of three top former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster will reach a climax as the defendants will begin to answer questions from prosecutors and their defense lawyers on Oct. 16.
They will face these two focal questions: Was it possible for them to predict the massive tsunami that triggered the triple core meltdowns at the TEPCO plant in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, and was the damage from the natural disaster avoidable?
The three former TEPCO executives to undergo questioning are former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto. All of them essentially answered no to those two questions in the opening session of the trial in June last year; that they could not foresee the tsunami, and therefore have no criminal responsibility for the damage caused by the natural disaster leading to the nuclear accident.
This unusual trial took several years to come to the Tokyo District Court as prosecutors’ two refusals to indict the three ex-executives were overridden each time by the committee for the inquest of prosecution. As a result, the defendants were forcibly indicted by lawyers serving as prosecutors.
The trial’s eight months of cross examinations of various witnesses that ended on Oct. 3 gave rise to the view that the former management essentially postponed taking sufficient countermeasures against the level of tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station on March 11, 2011 out of cost considerations.
The gushing seawater sent to the Fukushima shore by the Great East Japan Earthquake halted diesel power generators at the plant, making it impossible to cool down the nuclear fuel cores that melted down to the ground and resulted in the release of a massive amount of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. This nuclear disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents around the plant, and many of them are still unable to return to their homes seven years after the incident.
— ‘Management first, countermeasures second’?
In the 24th session of the trial on Sept. 5, an affidavit given to the prosecution by a former top TEPCO official in charge of tsunami countermeasures was read out: “Our business environment was deteriorating because of the Niigata Chuetsu offshore earthquake of 2007 that halted the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power station, and we wanted to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 plant from stopping by all means.”
The statement said that the former management once decided to introduce measures to protect against possible tsunami damage but decided to postpone them after finding out that they were more costly than expected, implying that managerial decisions were behind the delay.
Earlier, all TEPCO tsunami countermeasure officials who testified before the court had agreed that such steps must be taken in response to a 2002 government estimate that “a massive tsunami could occur off the Fukushima coast.” Their testimonies, however, did not explain why the process was delayed.
According to the affidavit, the three defendants including Katsumata approved countermeasures at a top-level TEPCO meeting in February 2008 after a report was presented to the meeting that an estimated wave 7.7 meters high or more could hit the Fukushima facility. But more detailed calculations showed that the potential maximum height would be 15.7 meters, and it was reported to Muto, the former vice president, that it was now estimated to cost tens of billions of yen and take more than four years to complete the countermeasures. Following this estimate, Muto decided to ask experts to re-evaluate the reliability of the 2002 government estimate, effectively shelving steps to mitigate damage from tsunami.
Implementing tsunami countermeasures could mean a halt to the Fukushima nuclear plant as construction work could not be completed in time. If that was the case, it was better to work behind closed doors and influence regulators so that they would clear the facility as safe, according to the testimony by a former tsunami countermeasure official presented in September this year.
If the management really postponed measures to curb tsunami damage as explained in the affidavit that would fit with the argument by the prosecution — as highlighted by designated lawyers in the special trial. Another focal point of the trial would be how the three defendants would explain this point.
Moreover, it is still not clear what Katsumata, the then chairman, and Takekuro, another vice president back then, were thinking about the results of tsunami damage estimates reported to the February 2008 meeting. The level of involvement by these two defendants is also a highlight of the questioning session starting Oct. 16.
According to the 2002 government estimate, there was a 20 percent chance that a magnitude-8 earthquake could occur along the Japan Trench off the northeastern Japan coast of Sanriku and the eastern coast of Boso during the next 30 years. Fukushima lies alongside this area, which triggered three major tremblers that caused massive tsunami during the past 400 years as shown in historical records.
Professor Fumihiko Imamura of Tohoku University, a tsunami dynamics specialist, questioned the validity of the government evaluation during the trial saying, “It cannot be ignored but has many issues,” siding with the three defendants. But professor emeritus Kunihiko Shimazaki of the University of Tokyo, a seismologist who headed an expert panel that compiled the 2002 estimate, testified that the panel’s conclusion didn’t face any objections from panel members. “It was a consensus conclusion. The (2011 nuclear) accident could have been avoided if countermeasures were taken according to the long-term evaluation,” Shimzaki said. His testimony indicated the defendants failed to act properly.
In class action damages suits filed by evacuees from the 2011 nuclear accident and others, five district courts have ruled that the massive tsunami that triggered the core meltdowns could have been foreseen based on the 2002 estimate. But criminal trials require stronger proof and sometimes end with different conclusions than civil suits.
Meanwhile, about the question of whether the damage caused by the tsunami was avoidable, a former TEPCO employee at the time of the nuclear disaster said in the trial that “damage from tsunami could not be prevented even if countermeasures were taken.” The superior of the employee testified that “countermeasures, if implemented, could be too late, but I think something could have been done.”
A former employee of the Japan Atomic Power Co. testified that his company constructed soil embankments around its Tokai No. 2 nuclear power station in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture to the south of Fukushima, to fend off a tsunami to a height of 12.2 meters. This measure was based on the 2002 government estimate, and the facility was spared of damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The prosecution argues that such a measure would have prevented the Fukushima nuclear facility from causing the devastating damage.
(Japanese original by Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department, and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

October 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Tepco Staffer Testifies in Court that Tepco Executives Put Off Tsunami Measures at Fukushima Plant

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In this March 11, 2011 photo provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co., a tsunami is seen just after striking the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant breakwater.
TEPCO staffer testifies execs put off tsunami measures at Fukushima plant
April 11, 2018
TOKYO — A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee testified in court here on April 10 that company executives decided to postpone tsunami prevention measures at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant despite an assessment warning that a massive wave could hit the power station.
Three former TEPCO executives including former Vice President Sakae Muto, 67, are on trial for professional negligence causing death and injury over the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The TEPCO employee’s statements at the trial’s fifth hearing were in line with the arguments of the court-appointed attorney acting for the prosecution.
Since 2007, the male employee had been part of an internal assessment group tasked with estimating the maximum height of tsunami which could strike the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The group commissioned a TEPCO-affiliated company to estimate the size of potential tsunami, based on a long-term assessment made by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion that a massive wave could be generated by a quake in the Japan Trench, including off Fukushima Prefecture. In 2008, the TEPCO subsidiary reported that tsunami as tall as 15.7 meters could hit the plant.
In the trial, the employee stated, “I thought that TEPCO should take the assessment into consideration in taking (earthquake and tsunami) countermeasures, as the assessment was supported by prominent seismologists.” He said he was so confident that the utility would take action that he emailed another working group at the company, “There will definitely be major renovations at the Fukushima No. 1 and other plants.”
When the employee reported the assessment result to Muto, the then vice president gave him instructions that could be interpreted as an order to prepare to build a levee. However, the employee testified that Muto later shifted policy and called for an investigation into whether the long-term tsunami risk assessment is correct rather than taking tsunami countermeasures.
“I thought they (TEPCO) would consider taking tsunami prevention measures, but they changed policy unexpectedly and I lost heart,” the employee told the court.
Along with Muto, former TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata and Vice President Ichiro Takekuro were slapped with mandatory indictments in February 2016 after a decision by the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution. Since the trial’s first public hearing, the court-appointed lawyers for the prosecution have claimed that the executives put off tsunami countermeasures even though TEPCO staff tasked with estimating the maximum height of tsunami that could strike the Fukushima plant endeavored to address the threat. The defendants have argued that they did not put off the countermeasures.
(Japanese original by Ebo Ishiyama, City News Department, and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department)
 
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The 2011 tsunami damaged pumps at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
TEPCO worker: Boss scrapped tsunami wall for Fukushima plant
April 11, 2018
An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. testified in court that his boss abruptly ended preparations in 2008 to build a seawall to protect the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant from a towering tsunami.
“It was unexpected,” the employee said of former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto’s instructions during a hearing at the Tokyo District Court on April 10. “I was so disheartened that I have no recollection of what followed afterward at the meeting.”
Muto, 67, was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division at the time.
He, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, former TEPCO vice president, are now standing trial on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
To prove negligence, prosecutors are trying to show that the top executives could have predicted the size of the tsunami that swamped the plant on March 11, 2011, resulting in the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The employee was a member of a team tasked with compiling steps against tsunami at the earthquake countermeasures center that the utility set up in November 2007.
He reported directly to Muto.
According to the employee, TEPCO was considering additional safeguards on the instructions of the then Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for all nuclear plant operators to review their anti-earthquake measures.
The group weighed its options based on a long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the science ministry’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.
The assessment pointed out that Fukushima Prefecture could be hit by a major tsunami.
Some experts were skeptical about the assessment, given that there were no archives showing a towering tsunami ever striking the area.
But the employee told the court, “Members of the group reached a consensus that we should incorporate the long-term assessment” in devising countermeasures.
The group asked a TEPCO subsidiary to conduct a study on the maximum height of a tsunami on the basis of the assessment.
The subsidiary in March 2008 informed the group that a tsunami of “a maximum 15.7 meters” could hit the Fukushima plant.
The group reported that number to Muto in June that year.
Based on Muto’s instructions, the group studied procedures on obtaining a permit to build a seawall to protect the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to the employee.
But in July, Muto, without giving an explanation, told the group at a meeting that TEPCO will not adopt the 15.7-meter estimate, the employee said.
He said Muto’s decision stunned group members who had believed the company was moving to reinforce the plant.
The tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reached 15.5 meters.
But Muto and the two others on trial have pleaded not guilty, arguing that the 15.7-meter prediction was “nothing more than one estimate.”
Why the TEPCO management dropped the tsunami prediction will be the focus of future hearings.
Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the three should be indicted.
Their trial began in June last year. Lawyers are acting as prosecutors in the case.
(This story was compiled from reports by Mikiharu Sugiura, Takuya Kitazawa and Senior Staff Writer Eisuke Sasaki.)

April 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Three former TEPCO officials on trial

Three former TEPCO officials and their disaster planning skills are on trial for deaths caused by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear meltdowns.

July 9, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Trial of former Tepco executives over 2011 disaster

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The criminal trial of three former top executives at Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the triple meltdown at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 has begun at the Tokyo District Court. The point at issue is whether it was possible for the accused to have foreseen the giant tsunami that led to the nuclear disaster and whether they could have taken steps to prevent the catastrophe. Proving the case against them will not be easy. Still, the court and the lawyers acting as prosecutors should leave no stone unturned in their effort to unravel Tepco’s decision-making process regarding the nuclear power plant’s safety measures. This is critical as a great deal remains shrouded in mystery as to what the power company and its executives did or failed to do to prepare the plant for the kind of disaster that struck it six years ago.

The trial was set after an Inquest of Prosecutions, composed of ordinary citizens, twice overturned the prosecution’s decisions not to pursue charges against the former Tepco executives — former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and two ex-vice presidents, Sakae Muto, 67, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71.

Three lawyers, who acted as prosecutors to indict the men in February, charge that the former executives were well aware of the possibility that a tsunami higher than the Tepco plant site, which is 10 meters above sea level, could hit the facility and flood the reactor turbine buildings, resulting in a loss of power that would cause the plant’s cooling system to fail. Yet they neglected to take any precautionary measures to prevent such an outcome. Such negligence on the part of the Tepco executives, the lawyers charge, led to the hydrogen explosions at the plant’s Nos. 1 and 3 reactors on March 12 and 14, 2011, injuring 13 people at the scene and forcing patients at a nearby hospital to endure long hours of evacuation, which resulted in 44 deaths.

In the opening session of the trial on Friday, the former top executives all pleaded not guilty, saying it was impossible for them to foresee the tsunami and the nuclear disaster.

In a civil suit in which some 140 Fukushima residents who evacuated to Gunma Prefecture due to the nuclear disaster demanded ¥1.5 billion in damages, the Maebashi District Court has ordered the government and Tepco to pay ¥39 million in compensation, ruling that they could have foreseen the tsunami hitting the plant. But to establish criminal responsibility on the part of the individual executives, it must be proven that they could have foreseen the occurrence of a calamity in concrete terms — instead of just being vaguely aware of the danger.

One point at issue in the trial is an estimate made by a Tepco subsidiary in 2008 — based on the government’s assessment of long-term quake risks — that if an earthquake of magnitude 8.2 — similar in intensity to the 1896 quake off the Sanriku coast of Tohoku — occurred off Fukushima Prefecture, a tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters could strike the plant site. During the civil suit proceedings that in 2008, Muto said that he had been informed of the estimate, along with an explanation from the subsidiary that a seawall 10 meters high needed to be built to protect the plant site, and that he gave an instruction to look into how to get government approval for building such a seawall. When interrogated by prosecutors, Takekuro said he had been informed of the estimate in April or May 2009. However, Katsumata has denied that he had been informed of the estimate — although the Inquest of Prosecution suspects that he must have received the information by June that year.

Although Tepco discussed measures to protect key facilities at the plant against flooding by a tsunami, the company eventually took no concrete action. Not enough has been made known as to what specific information the executives received and what judgments they made after they received the tsunami estimate.

Although the government, the Diet and Tepco each conducted probes into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, they have been unable to clarify why the power company failed to take prompt measures in response to data showing the potential risk of a tsunami occurring that could damage the plant. This trial may be the last chance to scrutinize Tepco’s decision-making process over the safety of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The court and the prosecution should do their utmost to clarify not only the responsibility of the Tepco executives for the Fukushima plant disaster but also that of the government as the supervisory authority.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/07/04/editorials/trial-former-tepco-executives-2011-disaster/

July 6, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-tsunami policy shift key to criminal trial of ex-TEPCO execs

march 11 2017 tsunami at daiichi.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

 

The key point of contention in the criminal trial of former top Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) executives over the 2011 nuclear crisis will likely be their decisions on tsunami prevention measures after the utility itself estimated in 2008 that tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters could hit its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto were slapped with mandatory indictments by lay reviewers after public prosecutors twice decided not to press charges. Their trial began on June 30, when all three pleaded not guilty and emphasized that it was impossible for management to predict the nuclear accident.

In his opening statement, lawyer Hiroshi Kamiyama, who has been appointed prosecutor by the court, slammed the TEPCO ex-managers, saying, “After TEPCO learned that over 10-meter-tall tsunami could hit the plant, the company put off countermeasures and irresponsibly continued to operate the facility as-was.”

The key question in the nuclear crisis investigation had been whether the 2002 long-term assessment report by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion stating that massive tsunami could occur off the Pacific Coast from the Sanriku to the Boso areas, was sufficiently credible to require TEPCO to implement countermeasures. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in September 2013 dropped a criminal case against the former TEPCO management, arguing that the assessment was “not academically developed enough.”

In response, Kamiya and other court-appointed attorneys argued during the June 30 hearing that those in charge of nuclear power facility management in fact tried to map out tsunami countermeasures based on the 2002 assessment, but TEPCO as a company put off implementing them.

Based on the government’s 2002 assessment, a TEPCO-affiliated company in March 2008 reported to the utility headquarters that tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters could strike the Fukushima No. 1 plant. TEPCO officials at the nuclear power facility management department immediately ordered the affiliated firm to determine how tall a levee was required to prevent flooding of the plant, which stands 10 meters above sea level. The firm reported that a 10-meter-tall seawall would be necessary.

These figures were then reported to then Fukushima plant chief Masao Yoshida and then vice president Muto, who was in charge of the matter at the time. Muto, however, asked the Japan Society of Civil Engineers to re-evaluate the tsunami height estimates, and shelved countermeasures at TEPCO facilities as a whole.

The prosecution also pointed out that this “policy shift” continued to be debated within the utility. A note saying “tsunami prevention measures cannot be avoided” was circulated at a September 2008 meeting, and Yoshida told a February 2009 executive meeting — attended by the three defendants — that “some say tsunami of about 14 meters tall could hit the plant.”

However, lawyers for the former executives argued that contrary to the prosecution’s assertion of “a policy shift” in tsunami countermeasures, TEPCO had not set a particular policy to begin with. They insisted that the 15.7-meter tsunami estimate was a “trial calculation,” squarely denying the prosecution’s argument. Amid this clash, witness testimony on how the matter was understood within the utility’s ranks will be key.

Parties related to civil lawsuits over the nuclear crisis are paying close attention to the criminal trial, as many major points of dispute overlap.

The Maebashi District Court in March handed down the first ruling of the roughly 30 class action law suits filed by nuclear evacuees and other parties, in which the court acknowledged the liability of both TEPCO and the Japanese government. The Chiba and Fukushima district courts are expected to hand down rulings in other civil cases by the end of the year.

Lawyer Hideaki Omori, co-head of the legal team representing those affected by the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, says that many details have yet to be uncovered, such as what discussions were held within TEPCO over tsunami countermeasures. He adds, “While criminal trials look into individual responsibility, the responsibility of the three defendants, who were at the center of the organization, is equivalent to that of TEPCO.”

TEPCO declined to comment on the criminal trial.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170701/p2a/00m/0na/031000c

July 3, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima trial should clarify why TEPCO execs didn’t act

protecting sea walls july 1 2017.jpgAn artist’s concept of seawalls to protect the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from tsunami

 

The first criminal trial over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is now under way, drawing fresh attention to key questions concerning the devastating accident and its lasting reverberations.

The focus of public attention will be on whether the reams of evidence collected by public prosecutors, along with statements by those in charge, will provide a clearer picture of how the disaster unfolded.

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operated the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, pleaded innocent June 30 in the first hearing held at the Tokyo District Court.

They are charged with professional negligence resulting in the deaths of 44 people who had to be evacuated from a hospital near the plant, and injuries of others.

While the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office twice decided not to press charges against the three, citing a lack of evidence, independent judicial panels of citizens voted for mandatory indictments against them.

The core question for the trial judge is whether it was possible for them to predict the towering tsunami that inundated the plant, triggering a triple meltdown, and take effective safety measures to prevent the catastrophe.

In his opening statement, the lawyer acting as a prosecutor asserted that the three former TEPCO executives had the “ultimate obligation and responsibility” to ensure the safety of the nuclear facility.

He cited a 2008 estimate by a TEPCO subsidiary involved in the operation of the Fukushima plant that pointed to the “shocking” possibility of the plant being struck by tsunami of up to 15.7 meters. The TEPCO officials proposed that measures be taken to protect the plant from such a tsunami, including the construction of a seawall, but the three executives decided to postpone taking such steps.

The defense team countered by reiterating its argument that it was merely one of many estimates and constitutes no reason to claim that the defendants were able to predict and avoid the accident.

In 2002, a government agency warned that a massive earthquake capable of generating huge tsunami could occur anywhere off the Pacific coast from the northern Sanriku region in Tohoku down to the Boso region in Chiba Prefecture.

The huge 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami caused damage to nuclear power facilities in India.

Japanese nuclear regulators at that time called for steps to enhance the safety of nuclear power plants.

Six years since the harrowing accident, there are still many questions that remain unanswered with regard to TEPCO’s responses to these warnings and developments. How seriously did the utility consider additional safety measures? What steps did the company actually take and fail to take? What are the reasons for its decisions?

There is no denying that most of the TEPCO people involved have done little to help clear up the facts. Their behavior has been marked by insincerity.

The three defendants were summoned by the Diet’s committee that looked into the accident as unsworn witnesses and answered various questions in public.

After that, however, they showed no willingness to offer their own accounts of what happened.

Like many other TEPCO executives, the three defendants have, to this day, refused to agree to their statements made in interviews by the government’s investigative committee to be made public.

Criminal trials are held to determine whether the defendants should be held criminally liable.

The rights of the defendants provided by the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Law should, naturally, be respected. That means there is a limit to what a criminal court can do to clear up the truth.

While recognizing the limitations of what a criminal trial can achieve, we sincerely hope it will shed new light on the accident.

This hope is obviously shared by not just the survivors who have lost their families and hometowns in the accident but also countless others who were affected by the disaster.

The defendants have a duty to help disclose the truth.

In addition to determining whether or not the defendants are guilty of professional negligence, the trial offers an opportunity to reflect deeply on some key questions concerning nuclear power and the related roles of electric utilities and the government; for example, can the safety of nuclear plants be ensured and is there really a viable future for nuclear power generation in this earthquake-prone nation.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201707010022.html

July 1, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fukushima nuclear disaster: former Tepco executives go on trial

Three men plead not guilty to professional negligence in the only criminal action targeting officials since the triple meltdown

2921From left, former Tepco executives Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto arriving at court in Tokyo on Friday.

 

Three former executives with the operator of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence, in the only criminal action targeting officials since the triple meltdown more than six years ago.

In the first hearing of the trial at Tokyo district court on Friday, Tsunehisa Katsumata, who was chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) at the time of the disaster, and two other former executives argued they could not have foreseen a tsunami of the size that knocked out the plant’s backup cooling system, triggering a meltdown in three reactors.

I apologise for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials,” Katsumata said, bowing slightly.

Prosecutors alleged that the 77-year-old, along with his co-defendants, Sakae Muto, 67, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71 – both former Tepco vice-presidents – had been shown data that anticipated a tsunami of more than 10 metres in height that could cause a power outage and other serious consequences.

2840Activists protest against Tepco on Friday.

 

A report by a government panel said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit the plant if a magnitude-8.3 quake occurred off the coast of Fukushima. Executives at the company allegedly ignored the internal study.

The three men – charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury – have since retired from Tepco.

The company, which faces a multibillion-dollar bill for decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, is not a defendant in the trial. If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to 1m yen (£7,000).

Although there are no records of anyone dying as a result of exposure to radiation from the plant, prosecutors alleged the executives were responsible for the deaths of 40 elderly people who were evacuated from a hospital near the plant.

The Fukushima plant had a meltdown after the tsunami, triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake, hit the plant on the afternoon of 11 March 2011.

The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people along the north-east coast of Japan and forced more than 150,000 others living near the plant to flee radiation. Some of the evacuated neighbourhoods are still deemed too dangerous for former residents to return to.

They continued running the reactors without taking any measures whatsoever,” the prosecutor said. “If they had fulfilled their safety responsibilities, the accident would never have occurred.”

Muto challenged the allegation by the prosecution that he and the other defendants failed to take sufficient preventative measures despite being aware of the risk of a powerful tsunami more than two years before the disaster.

When I recall that time, I still think it was impossible to anticipate an accident like that,” he said. “I believe I have no criminal responsibility over the accident.”

Investigations into the accident have been highly critical of the lax safety culture at Tepco and poor oversight by industry regulators. Prosecutors considered the case twice, and dropped it both times, but a citizens’ judicial panel overrode their decision and indicted the former executives.

Outside the court, Ruiko Muto, a Fukushima resident and head of the group of plaintiffs, said: “Since the accident, nobody has been held responsible nor has it been made clear why it happened. Many people have suffered badly in ways that changed their lives. We want these men to realise how many people are feeling sadness and anger.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/30/fukushima-nuclear-crisis-tepco-criminal-trial-japan

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | 1 Comment

 

Three former executives of the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have pleaded not guilty over the March 2011 accident.

Nuclear meltdowns occurred at the plant after it was hit by a giant earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The defendants are former Tokyo Electric Power Company Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former Vice Presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto.

They are accused of professional negligence resulting in the deaths of 44 people, including hospital patients forced to stay at evacuation shelters for a long period.

At the start of the trial at the Tokyo District Court on Friday, Katsumata apologized for the serious accident, and causing a great nuisance and concern.

But he said it was impossible to predict the tsunami, and the nuclear accident that followed, at the time.

Takekuro and Muto also offered apologies but pleaded not guilty.

Points of contention will likely include whether the defendants were able to predict that a huge tsunami would hit the plant, and whether the accident could have been prevented if proper steps had been in place.

This is the first trial concerning criminal responsibility for an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Public prosecutors decided not to file charges against the 3 former executives in 2013. But they were indicted in February last year by court-appointed lawyers in line with the decision by a prosecution inquest panel of randomly selected citizens.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170630_1

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Trial of Three Key Tepco Executives Starting

l3 key executive tepco.jpg

 

The trial of the three key Tepco executives in charge during the Fukushima disaster began this week. They are charged with criminal negligence, for not taking know safety measures to protect the plant against a large tsunami.
The trial
is finally taking place long after prosecutors in Tokyo refused to prosecute the case, thanks to a citizen group using a legal maneuver to force a case to be brought to trial.

The three key TEPCO executives are :
Tsunehisa Katsumata (ex-chairman)
Ichiro Takekuro (ex-vice president)
Sakae Muto (ex-vice president)

June 2, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment