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Defunct government agency exempted from indictment over Fukushima crisis

A panel has upheld a decision by prosecutors not to indict three former senior officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency over the Fukushima crisis. The agency was responsible for nuclear safety at the time of the accident and has since been dissolved.

The decision by the Tokyo No. 1 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, dated April 14, means that the agency is effectively absolved of criminal responsibility for one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

The three were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. They include Yoshinori Moriyama, NISA’s former deputy director general for nuclear accident measures.

Tsunami waves flooded the plant on March 11, 2011, knocking out power supplies and causing three reactors to melt down.

The 11-member panel concluded that it was impossible for Moriyama and the two others to foresee that 10-meter-high waves would strike.

Three former Tepco executives, including then Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 76, were indicted in February based on a decision by another committee that examined a prior decision by prosecutors not to lay charges.

Under the revised inquest of prosecution law, which took effect in May 2009, criminal charges are filed if a minimum of eight members of the judicial panel vote in favor of indictment in two consecutive rulings.

NISA was scrapped in September 2012 as the nation revamped its nuclear regulatory setup following the Fukushima crisis. Critics accused the agency of lacking teeth because it was under the umbrella of the pro-nuclear Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and therefore was seen as hand in glove with the nuclear industry.

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO Prosecution: A Sign That Japan’s Nuclear Industry Is in Free Fall


The criminal prosecution of TEPCO is another step in the process to end nuclear power in Japan.

By Shaun Burnie

The decision this week to indict executives of Japan’s largest energy utility, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), for their failure to prevent the meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima Daiichi is a major step forward for the people of Japan.

The fact that this criminal prosecution is taking place at all is a vindication for the thousands of citizens and their dedicated lawyers who are challenging the nation’s largest power company and the establishment system. It is a devastating blow to the obsessively pro-nuclear Abe government, which is truly fearful of the effects the trial will have on nuclear policy and public opinion over the coming years.

For the eight other nuclear power companies in Japan, including their executives, the signal is clear – ignore nuclear safety and there is every prospect that when the next nuclear accident happens at your plant you will end up in court. For an industry that disregarded safety violations and falsified inspection results through its entire existence, the prosecution of TEPCO will be shocking.

But it would be naive to think that profound behavioral change will inevitably follow. In fact, in the five years after the accident, Japan’s nuclear industry has not just failed to learn the lessons of the accident, it is still actively ignoring them. In the three years since nuclear plant operators applied to restart their shutdown nuclear fleet, the evidence shows that when it comes to nuclear safety the bottom line is not safety, but money.

Leaving aside the inherent risks of another severe nuclear accident, the new safety agency in Japan, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is overwhelmed, incapable and inadequate.

Back in 2008, TEPCO produced an internal report that predicted a maximum credible tsunami of 15.7 meters, but continued to insist that it would not reach the nuclear plant at Fukushima, which sits at a height of 10 meters. The cooling pumps for the reactor cores and spent fuel pools were located at just four metres above sea level.

Historical evidence that a major tsunami would impact the eastern Pacific coast of Ibaraki, Fukushima and Miyagi was well known. Modelling suggested that the next major tsunami was overdue and would inundate the coastal plain about 2.5 to 3 km inland. In 2009, Japanese nuclear regulators questioned the vulnerability of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors to a large-scale tsunami and asked TEPCO to “consider” concrete steps against tsunami waves at the plant. TEPCO responded: Do you think you can stop the reactors?

This relaxed attitude is not just limited to TEPCO. In recent weeks, Kyushu Electric informed the NRA that the emergency seismic proof isolation building that they committed to build by March of this year would not be built after all, despite being  a condition to secure approval to restart the two Sendai reactors. The NRA expressed its disappointment, but the Sendai reactors restarted in August and continue to operate.

At the Takahama nuclear plant, owned by Kansai Electric the NRA admitted in the last month that they do not know if the reactors comply with fire safety regulations requiring essential electric safety cabling to be adequately separated and protected.

The loss of safety cable function sounds mundane, but the risks are considered more severe than all other failures at a nuclear plant combined. Without electricity, vital safety systems do not work and control of the reactor is lost. A severe accident at Takahama would threaten millions of residents of Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and the wider Kansai region.

Nonetheless, the NRA granted Kansai Electric an exemption to avoid delaying restart. Takahama reactor-3 resumed operation in late January, while Reactor 4 at Takahama resumed operations for less than three days before shutting down again on 29 February due to an electrical failure.

These examples are the tip of the atomic iceberg that threatens the next nuclear disaster in Japan. With three reactors now operating, the industry remains in crisis. Having sat on idle assets for the last few years, the utilities are desperate to resume operations, while the nuclear obsessed Abe government is happy to support them. It’s time to put people first.

Nuclear power is a financial disaster which will only get worse as the electricity market opens to new suppliers and renewable energies out-price them. And the vast majority in Japan realize this: 60 percent of Japanese are opposed to the phase-in of nuclear, and there are more than 300 lawyers fighting reactor by reactor to prevent restart on behalf of citizens. At this rate, the Abe government and the nuclear industry will never see the target of 35 reactors restarted by 2030.

The criminal prosecution of TEPCO, long in coming, is another step in the process to end nuclear power in Japan and for a transformation of its energy system to renewables.

Shaun Burnie is a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, currently working as part of a Greenpeace radiation survey team in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Fukushima

March 6, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

3 ex-TEPCO execs to be indicted Mon. over Fukushima nuclear disaster

indictment feb 26 2016.jpg

Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto (from left to right)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. will be indicted Monday for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the tsunami-triggered crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, a lawyer in charge of the case said Friday.

The three, who will face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, chairman of TEPCO at the time, and two former vice presidents — Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.

Prosecutors decided not to indict the three in September 2013, but the decision was overturned in July 2015 by an independent committee of citizens that mandated the three be charged on the grounds they were able to foresee the risks of a major tsunami prior to the disaster.

Source close to the matter said the three will be indicted without being taken into custody.

But the trial to look into the criminal responsibility of the then key TEPCO figures is unlikely to start by the end of the year, as preparations to sort out evidence and points of issues apparently require a considerable amount of time, they said.

At the six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast, tsunamis triggered by the massive earthquake on March 11, 2011, flooded power supply facilities and crippled reactor cooling systems. The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the No. 1, 3 and 4 units.

The Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution has said the former executives received a report by June 2009 that the plant could be hit by tsunami as high as 15.7 meters and that they “failed to take pre-emptive measures knowing the risk of a major tsunami.”

It also blamed the three for the injuries of 13 people, including Self-Defense Forces members, when hydrogen explosions occurred at the plant and the death of 44 hospital patients who evacuated amid harsh conditions.

A group of Fukushima citizens and other people filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against dozens of government and TEPCO officials over their responsibility in connection with what became one of the world’s worst nuclear crises.

But as prosecutors decided not to file charges on them, including then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the group narrowed down its target and asked the committee to examine whether the prosecutors’ decision was appropriate.

See also:

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs

February 26, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | Leave a comment