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Reflections on the TEPCO Trial: Prosecution and Acquittal after Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown

Abstract: This article focuses on the criminal justice consequences of the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima that was precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Through a process of “mandatory prosecution” initiated by Japan’s unique Prosecution Review Commissions, three executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company were charged with criminal negligence in 2015-2016. They were acquitted at trial in 2019 when the Tokyo District Court concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict. Following this verdict, Japanese prosecutors essentially said “we told you so – these cases should not have been prosecuted.” But we argue that a courtroom loss does not mean that the case should never have been brought, for the TEPCO trial and the criminal process that preceded it performed some welcome functions. Most notably, this criminal case revealed many facts that were previously unknown, concealed, or denied, and it clarified the truth about the Fukushima meltdown by exposing some of TEPCO’s claims as nonsense. At the same time, this case study illustrates the limits of the criminal sanction and the difficulty of controlling corporate crime in the modern world.

Key Words: Fukushima, criminal negligence, white-collar crime, Prosecution Review Commissions, mandatory prosecution, Japanese criminal justice


The scale of the tsunami far exceeded all previously held expectations and knowledge.”
Headline of “Important Report from TEPCO” (April 24, 2012)

“Who could they be kidding?… The Sanriku coast [in the Tohoku region of Japan] is famously like California: big earthquakes hit it often, hit it regularly, and hit it with massive tsunami.”

Harvard University Professor of Law J. Mark Ramseyer (2012)

On September 19, 2019, a panel of three professional judges in the Tokyo District Court acquitted three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The defendants were former chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa (79), and former vice presidents Takekuro Ichiro (73) and Muto Sakae (69), who shared responsibility for the company’s nuclear energy sector. They had been charged with criminal negligence1 for failing to prevent the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, which killed more than 18,000 people and forced 400,000 to evacuate their homes in order to escape the nuclear fallout (Hasegawa, 2013).2 

The 3/11 earthquake was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, and it was the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping started in 1900. The tsunami it precipitated reached heights up to 40 meters (130 feet), and in some places the colossal swell traveled at 700 kmh (435 mph) and surged 10 kilometers (6 miles) inland. The only nuclear accident as serious as the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant was the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. But while the Fukushima triple-disaster was severe, it was not precipitated by a low-probability event. The 3/11 earthquake was a “high-probability event,” for massive earthquakes and tsunamis have been assaulting the northeastern coast of Japan for centuries – in 869, 1611, 1793, 1896, and 1933 (Ramseyer, 2012). The size of the tsunami in 2011 was almost the same as the one in 1933.

There have been many legal and political reactions to the meltdowns in Fukushima (Samuels, 2013; Aldrich, 2019). Japan stopped using nuclear power for much of 2011 and 2012, and its usage has remained low since then, though the administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo seems determined to restart many of the country’s reactors. More broadly, several countries, including Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Taiwan, suspended or ended their use of nuclear power, and China suspended its plan to expand its use of nuclear power for half a year. New nuclear safety laws were also established in Japan, China, and South Korea, though in most of East Asia, major changes in the field of nuclear power seem unlikely because of “nuclear power’s sunk-cost structure and embeddedness in national energy plans” (Fraser and Aldrich, 2019, p.58). As for administrative law, Japan’s lax regulatory system (Kingston, 2012) was reformed after 3/11, with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) replaced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). Government supervision of the nuclear industry was also transferred from the ministry responsible for promoting it (the Ministry of Economy, Trade, & Industry, or METI) to the Ministry of Environment (MOE), which might result in more emphasis on safety and less on profit and the production of power (time will tell). In civil law, about 30 collective actions have been filed against TEPCO and government officials, in addition to some 400 individual lawsuits filed nationwide by the victims of the Fukushima meltdown (Jobin, 2019, p.74). As of September 2019, eight of the collective actions had resulted in judgments – and all found TEPCO liable (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).3

And then there is the legal process through which criminal sanctions can be imposed. Significant efforts were made to respond to the anti-social behavior of TEPCO executives and government officials by imposing punishment on those believed guilty of violating Japanese criminal law. The central question in this essay is this: what was the criminal process good for in the TEPCO case? We argue that, despite the acquittal of the TEPCO defendants, Japan’s criminal process did some good in this case, and that when it failed it did so in ways that are common in other systems of criminal justice. The latter claim will be no consolation to the victims and survivors of 3/11, but it does reflect how hard it is to hold corporations and their executives criminally accountable for the harms that they cause, not only in Japan but in all countries. While we focus on the limits of criminal law and criminal procedure in a case that may be the biggest crime in postwar Japanese history, our point applies more broadly, for in many societies white-collar crime is “the greatest crime problem of our age” (Coleman, 2002, p. xi).4

Our essay proceeds in three parts. Part one describes the complicated process of criminal prosecution through which charges were filed against the three TEPCO executives. This part of our story involves a uniquely Japanese institution called the Prosecution Review Commission (kensatsu shinsakai), which was reformed in 2009 to enable panels of 11 citizens to override the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors. Part two analyzes the reasoning of the Tokyo District Court and describes some of the reactions to its decision to acquit the executives. Many Japanese were harshly critical of that decision, but Japanese prosecutors essentially said “we told you so” after the Court concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict. In our view, the verdicts in this case are troubling but unsurprising, for impunity is common both in white-collar crime cases and in cases of “mandatory prosecution” (kyosei kiso) initiated by Japan’s PRCs. Part three of this article concludes by suggesting some lessons to learn from the TEPCO trial. Foremost among them is how difficult it is for criminal law and the institutions of criminal justice to control the conduct of corporations and their agents.


I. Prosecution

A Timeline summarizing the main events leading to and resulting from the triple disaster of 3/11 can be found in the Appendix to this article. The timeline shows that the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 resembled large natural disasters that had occurred many times before on the northeastern coast of Japan. In this sense, the chain of events leading to 3/11 could be traced back centuries.5 But our summary focuses on a cascade of executive, engineering, and regulatory failures that occurred in the few decades preceding the Fukushima disaster (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015). The Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that “there is plenty of blame to go around” for the Fukushima meltdown (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.245), and some other analysts share this view (Jones, 2019).6 Among the key proximate causes are the following:

*There was too little attention paid to evidence of large tsunamis that had assaulted the northeastern coast of Japan in previous decades and centuries. This heedlessness was widespread: by TEPCO executives, by regulatory officials and other agents of the Japanese state, and by the mass media.

*There were inexplicably different design conditions in the nuclear power plants located near each other in northeastern Japan. The Fukushima plant design was especially deficient.

*There were major methodological mistakes in the hazard analysis that TEPCO conducted to calculate the maximum possible tsunami at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant.

*In the years preceding 3/11, TEPCO made false reports during government inspections of its nuclear plants more than 200 times, and it concealed numerous plant safety incidents as well.

*There were major weaknesses in the regulation of Japan’s nuclear energy industry.7

One question concerns what conduct leading to the Fukushima meltdown can be considered criminal. Although the answer is contested, we believe many people who should have been charged and convicted were not held criminally accountable for the enormous harms that they helped cause. In June 2012, 1324 residents of Fukushima filed a criminal complaint with the Fukushima District Prosecutors Office against 33 TEPCO executives and government officials (Yamaguchi and Muto, 2012). Fifteen months later, prosecutors in Tokyo announced that they would not charge any TEPCO executives because, in their view, there was little chance of conviction. Over the next few years, two different Prosecution Review Commissions would review and reverse this non-charge decision and institute mandatory prosecution against the three former executives who would later be acquitted. This section and the pre-3/11 part of the Timeline explain how this happened.



Ultimately, three of them would be indicted, after citizens on two Prosecution Review Commissions overruled the non-charge decisions of Japan’s professional prosecutors.

A criminal trial can only occur if someone is charged with a crime. In the modern world it is prosecutors who usually make charge decisions. Even in the United States where grand juries can issue indictments, they almost always do what the prosecutor wants: investigating only those whom the prosecutor wants investigated, and indicting only those whom the prosecutor wants indicted (Blumberg, 1979, p.139). In fact, American grand juries are so likely to do the prosecutor’s bidding that critics have said they will even “indict a ham sandwich” – if that is what the prosecutor desires (Heilbroner, 1990, p.245). Thus, in the US as in Japan and most other nations, the prosecutor is the main gatekeeper of the criminal justice system. In the TEPCO case, Japanese prosecutors tried to keep the gate to criminal trial closed, but two Prosecution Review Commissions (PRCs) pried it open by compelling the indictment of the former executives. This section explains how that happened.

Prosecution in Japan has long been characterized by three qualities (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019). First, prosecutors have such broad discretion that they may have more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other officials in the country. Second, prosecutors tend to exercise their discretion cautiously, by following a conservative charging policy which mandates that they charge a case only if it is all but certain to end in conviction. Third, the best-known results of Japan’s charging conservatism are a conviction rate that approaches 100 percent and an acquittal rate that is close to 0 (Johnson, 2002; Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2001).

Japan’s conservative charging policy has several strengths. Most notably, it results in less use of imprisonment than do more aggressive charging policies in other democracies, most notably the United States. For progressives who are skeptical of the capacity of the criminal sanction to do good, this is a significant virtue (Packer, 1968). It is hard to say for sure, but Japan’s charging conservatism may also result in fewer wrongful convictions than more aggressive charging policies. Some critics contend that Japan’s high conviction rate results from an authoritarian approach to criminal justice in which too much power is vested in police and prosecutors and in which judges are too deferential to law enforcement’s interests. There are elements of truth in these criticisms, but one meaning of the country’s high conviction rate is that many criminal offenders who would be charged and convicted in other systems are never charged at all in Japan. In this sense, Japan’s cautious approach to charging cases is more protective of the rights and interests of criminal suspects than are prosecution systems in countries with lower conviction rates (Johnson, 2002, pp.237-242).

But Japan’s conservative charging policy also has several negative consequences. Some victims of crime feel abandoned or betrayed by prosecutors who do not charge the individual or organizational actors who have offended against them. There are relatively few criminal trials where guilt is seriously contested and where citizens can be instructed about law, government, and the duties of citizenship in the “classroom” of the courthouse (Tocqueville, 1835). When a contested trial does occur, it is difficult for some judges to remain neutral because issuing 98 or 99 convictions for every acquittal can numb their sensitivity to reasonable doubt. The supply of skilled and aggressive defense lawyering gets suppressed, for who wants to do criminal defense work when the chances of victory are so slim? The Japanese public loses some of the benefits of general deterrence that a more aggressive charging policy would generate. And in the thin layer of cases in which a crime is serious, the defendant denies guilt, and there is public pressure to produce a conviction, the risk of false confession rises, as does the risk of wrongful conviction (Johnson, 2002; Johnson, 2015).

In an effort to address some of the problems of prosecution, Prosecution Review Commissions were established in Japan in 1948, and their powers were strengthened by a legal reform that took effect in 2009 (Fukurai, 2011; Goodman, 2013). At present, there are 165 PRCs in Japan’s 50 district court jurisdictions. Each is composed of eleven citizens chosen randomly from local electoral rolls. If a prosecutor decides not to charge a case, a victim or suitable proxy can request that a PRC review the decision.8

PRCs were created during the postwar Occupation by adapting the American grand jury system to the Japanese context. In the 1930s, when Japan’s government became militaristic and fascistic, prosecutors frequently abused their powers by charging enemies and protecting allies and friends (Mitchell, 1992). Article 1 of the PRC Law of 1948 states that the main purpose of the PRC institution is to guarantee “proper and fair execution of the right of public action by reflecting the popular will,” and American officials in the Occupation described PRCs as a “safeguard against procurators who fail to prosecute cases” (West, 1992, p.694). The PRC Law left prosecutors’ decisions to charge a case unreviewable except by the courts. Most prosecutors believed this reform – a check on their non-charge decisions but no check on their decisions to charge – was more beneficial to their interests than an American-style grand jury would have been (Goodman, 2013).

A Prosecution Review Commission and an American grand jury share some similarities in form. Both rely on citizen oversight to check prosecutorial discretion, and both focus on charging decisions. But the two systems differ in function, with the American grand jury reviewing cases before an indictment is issued, and PRCs reviewing cases after a decision has been made not to charge. In most criminal justice systems, decisions not to charge are seldom subject to discussion or disapproval because the media and the public learn little about them (Davis, 1969; Bach, 2009, ch.3). In Japan, however, the possibility of review by a PRC means that prosecutors know a non-charge decision could be reviewed and (since the 2009 reform) reversed. It also means the public has a means of reviewing uncharged cases. If you believe prosecutors are inclined to protect their friends and allies, or if you think prosecutors are biased in favor of certain individuals or groups, then this form of lay participation may be a welcome development. The affirmative power to charge someone with a crime is enormous, but “the negative power to withhold prosecution may be even greater, because it is less protected against abuse” (Davis, 1969, p.188).

In the United States, there is no institution other than the media to review non-charge decisions, so a case that is not charged but should have been seldom received serious scrutiny. Moreover, in the United States, prosecutors have been so timorous about charging white-collar offenses and corporate crimes that one highly acclaimed book on the subject is called The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives (Eisinger, 2017). The title comes from a speech James Comey gave to prosecutors in 2002 in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, where Comey was the top prosecutor (in 2013 Comey became Director of the FBI; he was fired by President Donald Trump in 2017). After spending his first months as U.S. Attorney listening to career prosecutors and learning what kind of cases they were making, he gave a speech in the criminal division, where he asked “Who here has never had an acquittal or a hung jury?” Among the go-getters and resume-builders in his office, many hands went up, whereupon Comey congratulated them by saying “You are members of what we like to call the Chickenshit Club” (quoted in Eisinger, 2017, p.xiv). As Eisinger explains,

Prosecuting wrongdoers is an awesome responsibility, to be undertaken carefully and judiciously. But prosecutors – unlike other lawyers – are not simply advocates for one side. They are required to bring justice. They need to be righteous, not careerist. They should seek to right the biggest injustices, not go after the easiest targets. Victory in the courtroom should be a secondary concern, meaning that government lawyers should neither seek to win at all costs nor duck a valid case out of fear of losing. Federal prosecutors should not be judged on their trial record, whether they are criticized or what the political consequences might be of their prosecutions. Comey wanted his prosecutors to be bold, to reach and to aspire to great cases, no matter their difficulty” (Eisinger, 2017, pp.xiv-xv).

As it turns out, Comey’s speech came to be seen as feckless, and Comey himself joined this discreditable Club by failing to pursue many white-collar offenders when he was the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan (Eisinger, 2017, p.136). More broadly, despite widespread and serious malfeasance that led to the 2008 financial crisis, no top bankers from America’s biggest financial firms were prosecuted. The problem of impunity for white-collar criminals in the United States extends far beyond finance, to pharmaceutical companies, technology giants, automobile manufacturers, transnational corporations, and beyond. In short, the U.S. Department of Justice lacks the will and ability to prosecute business elites, and so do many other prosecutors’ offices in the United States (Garrett, 2014; Soltes, 2016) and the world (Bullough, 2019).

The problem of impunity through under-prosecution is one reason why countries such as Germany, Italy, and Sweden require prosecutors to file charges when an offense is made known. Their approach reflects a “principle of mandatory prosecution,” which can be contrasted with the “principle of discretionary prosecution” that prevails in Japan, the US, and South Korea, where prosecutors have no legal obligation to charge, regardless of the state of the evidence (Johnson, 2002, p.37). In the former countries, prosecutors are, by law and tradition, supposed to have no choice but to charge. But how often is the principle of mandatory prosecution evaded or ignored? After all, there is often a gap between law-on-the-books and law-in-action. In Germany, where the principle of legalitatsprinzip has long been established, prosecutors are frequently criticized for inappropriately dismissing charges or deferring prosecution, especially in cases of corporate crime (Boyne, 2017, p.139). The German and the American examples suggest that controlling the problem of under-prosecution – especially in cases of white-collar crime – is a formidable challenge in many countries and cultures. There is much evidence to support this view (Langer and Sklansky, 2017).9

As shown in Figure 1, Japan’s reformed Prosecution Review Commissions can begin an investigation of an un-charged case in two ways: by holding a hearing in response to a claim made by a crime victim or the victim’s proxy, or (through majority vote of its 11 members) by starting its own investigation. The PRC examines each case by questioning prosecutors, summoning witnesses, and asking for advice from legal advisors (shinsa hojoin and kojo bengoshi).10 Ultimately, a PRC arrives at one of three decisions, which it presents to prosecutors in writing: (a) non-indictment is proper (fukiso soto); (b) non-indictment is improper (fukiso futo); or (c) indictment is proper (kiso soto). For the first two outcomes a simple majority vote of 6 to 5 is required, while for the third a super-majority of 8 votes is necessary. Under the revised PRC Law, a PRC’s decision is binding only after it finds that “prosecution is appropriate” two times for the same case. Then one or more “designated attorneys” (shitei bengoshi) will be appointed by a court and will file criminal charges. The designated attorney (a private attorney recommended by the Bar) plays the role of prosecutor during the investigation, trial, and post-trial appeals. In English, cases charged in this way are called “compulsory prosecutions” or “mandatory prosecutions” (kyosei kiso). We employ the latter term.11



The reformed PRC Law seems good on paper, but what effects do PRCs actually have? Until 2009, PRC recommendations to prosecutors were advisory, not binding. Hence, prosecutors could ignore a recommendation – and frequently did (Johnson, 2002, pp.222-223). Since PRCs seldom prompted prosecutors to change their non-charge decisions, they were long considered “obscure” and “underutilized” features of Japanese criminal justice (West, 1992, p.694). This was also a motivation for reforming them.
In assessing PRC influence, some analysts focus narrowly on cases of mandatory prosecution (Goodman, 2013). These are, after all, the most visible consequence of PRC activity. Japan has had only nine cases of mandatory prosecution since the PRC reform took effect in 2009 (TEPCO being the most recent), for an average of less than one case per year. See Table 1. A total of 13 people were criminally charged in these nine cases, and only 2 were convicted, for a conviction rate of 15 percent.12 Some critics of mandatory prosecution claim this low conviction rate means PRCs are pushing for prosecution recklessly, with little regard for the harmful effects on defendants and the public interest (Goodman, 2013;
Sankei Shimbun, 2019; Tokyo Shimbun, 2019). Similarly, prosecutors believe the low conviction rate in cases of mandatory prosecution vindicates their original non-charge decisions. After the TEPCO executives were acquitted, prosecutors stressed that the court had agreed with their original conclusion that “the three couldn’t be indicted or held criminally responsible,” and they claimed the team of designated attorneys who had played the prosecutorial role at trial had “failed to present sufficient proof” to convict (quoted in The Mainichi, September 20, 2019). This “we told you so” attitude is supported by some scholarly observers too (Goodman, 2013; Goodman, 2019). After the TEPCO trial, Meiji University Professor Otsuka Hiroshi said “They’re cases where prosecutors have given up on bringing charges, so in a way it’s natural that a large number of them end in acquittals” (quoted in Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).

The sentences imposed on the two defendants who were convicted after mandatory prosecution suggest that PRCs do not always focus on the most serious cases. In one, the mayor of a small town in Tokushima prefecture (on the island of Shikoku) was convicted of assault and fined 9000 yen (about $90). In the other, a sixth-grade teacher in Nagano prefecture was convicted of “professional negligence resulting in injury” for causing a head injury to one of his students, by throwing him in a judo class. He was sentenced to one-year imprisonment, suspended for three years – so he was not incarcerated.13



Measured in the currency of criminal convictions and sanctions actually imposed, mandatory prosecutions seem to have had little effect. But the influence of Japan’s reformed PRCs should not be understated. For one thing, PRCs ratify the large majority of non-charge decisions that they review, thereby lending legitimacy to the practices of professional prosecutors. In 2011, for example, PRCs concluded that “non-prosecution is appropriate” (fukiso soto) in nearly 80 percent of the cases they reviewed. To Japanese prosecutors, this is a strong endorsement of their decision-making. Moreover, the possibility of mandatory prosecution through PRC review surely causes prosecutors to charge some cases more aggressively than they otherwise would, though the frequency of this “hidden impact” is impossible to measure (Hirayama, 2019). In addition, prosecutors sometimes reconsider a non-charge decision after a PRC “kick back” a case (kenshin bakku) by ruling that “prosecution is appropriate” or “non-prosecution is not appropriate.” In the half-century from 1949 to 2001, prosecutors decided to charge in about 7 percent of the cases (1144 out of 15,990 cases) in which PRCs had recommended once that they reconsider. From 2002 to 2017, this figure tripled to 22 percent (Hirayama, 2019), largely because concerns about victims’ rights made prosecutors more responsive to their interests and desires (Herber, 2019, ch.4).14 Thus, while PRCs seldom institute mandatory prosecution, when they ask prosecutors to reconsider a non-charge decision, prosecutors change it fairly frequently. Moreover, when PRCs agree with prosecutors about the propriety of a non-charge decision, they foster the perception that prosecutors are making good charge decisions. In short, while the evidence suggests that PRCs are passive toward prosecutors and powerful offenders in some cases, this institution does perform important political and criminological functions in Japanese society. One such function concerns accountability for white-collar crime. Five of the nine PRC-indicted cases (56 percent) and nine of the thirteen defendants (69 percent) subject to mandatory prosecution involved allegations of white-collar crime by governmental, political, or corporate elites.15

One key issue in the TEPCO case concerned the jurisdiction of prosecution. This is also a political issue in that it concerns “who gets what, when, and how” (Lasswell, 1936). How did such an important case involving victims in Fukushima – a prefecture that did not use a single kilowatt of power generated by TEPCO’s nuclear power plants – get handled by prosecutors in Tokyo and by two different Prosecution Review Commissions, each of which was composed of 11 residents of the nation’s capital, which is 150 miles south of the scene where the nuclear meltdowns occurred?16 The answer to this question requires an understanding of the way in which prosecution in Japan is organized (Johnson, 2002, ch.4, pp.119-143).

Japan’s procuracy is a bureaucracy which routinely employs a system of “hierarchical consultation and approval” (kessai) that is especially thoroughgoing in high-profile cases (Johnson, 2002, pp.128-132). In the TEPCO case, too, there were many discussions between prosecutors at various levels of this bureaucracy. Ultimately, decision-making authority was vested in the executive prosecutors in the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Tokyo,17 who seemed to believe that in moving the jurisdiction to Tokyo they could exercise greater control over the case by avoiding the involvement of Fukushima citizens in a PRC review, and who realized that if charges were filed, it would be better for the trial to take place in Tokyo, where court decisions in criminal cases have long been more pro-prosecutor than in other parts of the country (Johnson, 2002, pp.67-71).

Prosecutors provided several justifications for their decision to transfer jurisdiction to Tokyo, although the transfer of venue was only announced on September 9, 2013, just a few hours before the non-charge decision was issued by the Tokyo Prosecutors Office, not the Fukushima Prosecutors Office. Procedurally, prosecutors spoke with attorneys from Fukushima before the transfer decision was made, thereby lending a patina of procedural legitimacy to their decision. Practically, since the TEPCO executives lived in Tokyo, any trials that occurred would be more convenient there (there are also many more prosecutors in Tokyo than Fukushima). Historically, a similar transfer of jurisdiction had occurred in 2003, when cases involving allegations of criminal misconduct by TEPCO officials in Fukushima and Niigata had been transferred to the Tokyo District Court. And substantively, prosecutors stressed that shifting the jurisdiction to the capital would help preserve “the stability and unity of case dispositions” (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019).

In our view, these justifications are less persuasive than a more parsimonious and political explanation: executive prosecutors did not want the TEPCO case to be charged.18 In fact, prosecutors and police did not even employ the basic methods of “coercive investigation” (kyosei sosa) that are routinely used in serious cases – search warrants, arrests, interrogations, and the like – ostensibly because TEPCO officials were “cooperating” with the investigation (Herber, 2016). A political explanation for the transfer of jurisdiction is also favored by victims, survivors, and attorneys in Fukushima. One attorney said the decision to transfer jurisdiction to Tokyo was an “extremely dirty trick,” as was the decision to announce the non-prosecutions on the day after the announcement that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics, when that welcome news would dominate public discussions (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019). Criticism was common in the national media too, with analysts calling the transfer of jurisdiction and prosecutors’ non-charge decision “strange” (Asahi Shimbun, 2013), “cold to victims” (Mainichi Shimbun, 2013), and “monkey wisdom” (Shukan Kinyobi, 2013). In this context, mandatory prosecution through PRC review seemed to reflect “the public will,” which was the main purpose of the law that created this institution (West, 1992, p.694).

II. Trial

During the pre-trial process that ensued after mandatory prosecution was instituted in February 2016, the issues to be contested at the TEPCO trial were defined, and relevant evidence was presented by the prosecution and defense. Then the trial took place in 38 sessions over a 27-month period, from June 30, 2017 to September 19, 2019.19 It was a shorter trial than many people anticipated, partly because the sessions (one every three weeks, on the average) were held closer together than is often the case when trials occur before a panel of professional judges.20 The Tokyo District Court did not want this trial to last as long as many high-profile contested trials have in the past (in 1999, a former nursery school teacher named Yamada Etsuko was acquitted of homicide some 21 years after she had been charged when a PRC had concluded that prosecutors’ non-charge decision was inappropriate). The TEPCO trial also attracted much attention in the media and many more observers than the courtroom in Kasumigaseki could accommodate. Even late in the trial, few analysts were confident about what the verdicts would be. We were unsure, too.

In presenting the prosecution’s case, the designated attorneys stressed that, based on knowledge that was available before 3/11, a major earthquake and tsunami were concretely foreseeable events, and that the TEPCO executives should have and could have prevented the nuclear meltdown if they had fulfilled their “duty of care” (chui gimu). According to the criminal law of professional negligence as defined in Article 211 of Japan’s Penal Code (and under orthodox interpretations of Article 211 by Japan’s judiciary), if a professional engages continuously and repetitively in acts that are potentially dangerous to others, the person who has chosen to commit those acts has a special “duty of care” (Herber, 2016). Media reporting on this trial stressed that the prosecution’s case relied on a 2002 report from the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion (HERP), which stated that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake occurring near Fukushima within the next 20 years. In actuality, the prosecution presented much evidence in addition to the HERP report, including TEPCO emails and memos that showed TEPCO executives were informed of risks and advised of countermeasures long before 3/11, as well as testimony from witnesses who suggested that executives seemed reluctant to take meaningful countermeasures against a catastrophe. To put it in plain language, the prosecution’s core claim was that TEPCO executives had allowed cost considerations and profit imperatives to prevail over considerations of public safety.
In response to the charges of criminal negligence, the defense maintained what TEPCO spokespersons have long insisted: that the company has adhered to the “basic policy of always keeping safety first” (TEPCO, 2012). It also stressed that HERP’s report was unreliable, and that other experts disagreed with its conclusions, especially the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, whose 2002 report had been emphasized by professional prosecutors in their explanations for the non-charge decisions that were subsequently overturned by the Tokyo PRCs. More fundamentally, the defense insisted that a disaster of Fukushima’s magnitude was not “concretely foreseeable,” and it argued that its 5.7-meter (19 foot) sea wall was designed to withstand a tsunami equivalent to the maximum tide level ever recorded on the Fukushima shores. For their part, the three defendants echoed at trial what TEPCO spokespersons had been saying since the 3/11 meltdown: the safeguards they took were sufficient, but they “deeply regretted” the accident that occurred and the trouble it caused to victims and survivors. Many observers found their words hollow and insincere. Apologies of this kind – “I am not causally or legally responsible, but I am sorry” – are common in Japan. One analyst has noted the tendency to “grovel through a ritual of remorse” is so routine that “it’s a running joke” in some parts of Japanese society (West, 2006, p.285).



The Tokyo District Court made three main points in its decision to acquit the former TEPCO executives (Takeda, 2019). First, the Court acknowledged that the “long-term evaluation of seismic activities,” which was published by HERP in 2002, had predicted that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters (52 feet) could occur, but it said this assessment lacked a “concrete foundation,” and concluded that there were doubts about its “reliability.” We call this the Shaky Prediction claim. Second, based on knowledge available at the time of 3/11, the Court held that the defendants did not have an obligation to shut down the nuclear plant until safety countermeasures against a giant tsunami could be completed. We call this the No Duty to Shut It Down claim. Third and most broadly, legal standards that applied at the time of the Fukushima incident did not create an obligation for the executives to ensure the “absolute safety” of nuclear power plants. In one often-quoted sentence, the Court stated that “it would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures” (Dooley et al, 2019; Olsen, 2019). We call this the Absolute Safety Not Required claim. On these three grounds, the Tokyo District Court concluded that none of the defendants is criminally responsible for the deaths of the 44 patients who were evacuated from Futaba Hospital or for the injuries of the 13 soldiers that were caused by explosions at the Fukushima plant.

In our view, all of the Court’s core claims are questionable, and so, therefore, are its conclusions.

Shaky Prediction? After the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 brought to light a number of problems in Japan’s earthquake disaster prevention measures, a Special Measure Law on Earthquake Disaster Prevention was enacted in July of the same year. The law recognized failures to communicate and apply the results of earthquake research to the general public and to organizations that could and should prevent disasters. It also established a Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, as a special governmental organization attached to the Prime Minister’s Office (HERP now belongs to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). Among other missions, it “evaluates seismic activity in a comprehensive manner” and “publishes evaluation results”. Its report in 2002 predicted a 20 percent chance of an M8.0 earthquake and (in such an event) tsunami heights of 8.4 to 10.2 meters, which far exceed the 5.7-meter seawall at Fukushima. But TEPCO ignored this report, claiming there was “no wave source model” for the prediction. However, other engineers have explained that “the Fukushima accident was preventable” when examining seismic hazards over long periods of time, and they emphasized that “the best practice remains to assume that the largest inferred event can occur anywhere along the coast of interest” when there are large seismic events in the historical record (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015, p.10). Considering the coast’s historical record, TEPCO’s failure to follow best practice is both “inconceivable” and “incomprehensible” (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015, p.10).

There also was an abundance of other evidence introduced at trial that major earthquakes and massive tsunamis have occurred near the Sanriku coast, including (as described at the outset of this article) an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in 1933 that caused a tsunami about the same size as its successor would be in 2011 (Ramseyer, 2012). In many fields where experts forecast the future, predictions are inaccurate and unreliable (Tetlock, 2005). In this case, however, the question was not whether a major earthquake would occur; it was when. And in science and common sense, it is taken for granted that a massive earthquake may cause a giant tsunami. Philosophically, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have been called “black swan” events, for they were unpredictable, they had big impacts, and (after the fact) it was easy to concoct explanations that made them appear more certain than they actually were (Taleb, 2007; Aven, 2015). But scientifically and legally, a massive earthquake and a mighty tsunami near Fukushima were foreseeable events, even if their exact date was impossible to predict. TEPCO not only paid insufficient attention to historical evidence of large tsunamis striking the region (Acton and Hibbs, 2012). It also failed to follow up on its own computer simulation which showed a serious tsunami risk to the plant in 2008, three years before 3/11. But TEPCO reported the results of this simulation to NISA just 4 days before the triple disaster occurred (Kingston, 2012).

No Duty to Shut It Down? The Court’s second conclusion, that uncertainty about earthquakes and tsunamis means there was no need to shut down the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, is a grand non-sequitur (Takeda, 2019). To be sure, the nuclear meltdowns could have been prevented by shutting the nuclear reactors down. In retrospect, this extreme step would have been prudent. But shutting down the reactors was not the only way to avert nuclear catastrophe. Other countermeasures could have been taken, and some were taken by other power plants impacted by 3/11 (Soeda, 2019). The plants that took sufficient precautions did not meltdown, including Units 4, 5, and 6 of the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant (National Academies Press, 2014; Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

By insisting that the only way to avert a catastrophic meltdown was to shut down the Fukushima plants entirely, the Tokyo District Court “arbitrarily changed the frame” (katte ni dohyo o kaeta) for deciding the question of preventability, and it did so in a way that made conviction more difficult (Takeda, 2019). The Court also turned a blind eye to facts that favored conviction. If the emergency power supplies had been moved to higher ground or placed in watertight bunkers, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. If watertight connections had been made between emergency power supplies and critical safety systems, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. And if seawater pumps had been better protected or a backup means to dissipate heat had been constructed, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. In short, even if the TEPCO executives did not have a duty to shut down the Fukushima plant, they repeatedly violated their duty of care by failing to take other reasonable safety precautions.21

Absolute Safety Not Required? The Court’s third conclusion, that absolute safety is not required when operating a nuclear power reactor, also rests on dubious reasoning (Soeda, 2019). For starters, TEPCO’s nuclear power plants have had numerous accidents and incidents over the years. “Absolute safety” is a pipe dream. What the law expects is reasonable care: the degree of caution and concern an ordinary, prudent, and rational person would exercise in similar circumstances. Moreover, by siting nuclear plants in convenient locations building public support for the production of nuclear energy, TEPCO executives had long fostered belief in what has come to be called the “myth of safety” (anzen shinwa) – the view that nuclear accidents could not and would not occur (Aldrich, 2014). Before 3/11, this belief “tended to stifle honest and open discussion of the risks” of nuclear power (Noggerath, Geller, and Gusiakov, 2011, p.37). After 3/11, this belief was revealed to be a fairy tale.22 In order to find that “absolute safety is not required,” the Tokyo District Court had to turn a deaf ear to TEPCO’s decades-long PR campaign, whose aim was to convince the public that nuclear energy is completely safe. It also had to turn a jurisprudential somersault, by applying a duty of care23 in a case involving nuclear power (!) that is lower than the duty of care that courts routinely apply for automobile accidents (Takeda, 2019).

In sum, the Tokyo District Court’s decision makes two major mistakes. First, by requiring the prosecution to show that shutting down the plant was the one and only way to prevent a meltdown, it raised the evidentiary bar to an unusually and unreasonably high level. Second, by lowering the “duty of care” for TEPCO executives, it defined “professional negligence” down in a way that contradicts previous judicial interpretations and that closely resembles the claims prosecutors made in their original non-charge decisions (Soeda, 2019).24

We cannot read the minds or the motives of the judges in this case, but their problematical reasoning is compatible with the view that “peculiar convictions and biases” (tokuyu na omoikomi ya baiasu) led them to their conclusion (Takeda, 2019). There is a long history of Japanese judges deferring to the interests of professional prosecutors in criminal cases (Foote, 2010). Research also shows that Japanese judges who decide cases in ways favored by the ruling party sometimes enjoy better careers than do judges who deviate from the party line (Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2003). In this light, we should not be surprised to find that judges’ convictions in the TEPCO case closely resemble those possessed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and by professional prosecutors.



The outcome of the TEPCO trial also raises an interesting question: what if the trial had occurred before a lay judge panel of six citizens and three professional judges? This did not happen in the TEPCO case because under Japan’s Lay Judge Law, the only crimes eligible for lay judge trial are those for which the maximum possible punishment is a life sentence or a death sentence (only about 2 percent of Japanese crimes fall into these categories). But what if?

One prominent Japanese journalist has claimed that if there had been a lay judge trial, the citizens sitting in judgment would have been free of the “peculiar convictions and biases” that caused judges to tilt toward acquittal (and toward the procuracy and the LDP). He also believes that lay judges’ fidelity to the basic rules of criminal procedure would have led them to conviction (Takeda, 2019). In our view, this counterfactual reasoning is plausible but not persuasive. For one thing, the conviction rate in lay judge cases is actually a little lower than it was in similar cases before the lay judge reform took effect in 2009. For another, professional judges tend to dominate the deliberations by lay judge panels in Japan, much as professional judges do in criminal cases adjudicated by mixed tribunals in European countries (Johnson and Vanoverbeke, forthcoming). Moreover, to convict a criminal defendant in Japan, at least one professional judge must join the majority on a lay judge panel. Under this rule, lay judges cannot simply out-vote their professional counterparts on the bench. In the TEPCO case, persuading one judge to join their side and convict the three defendants may have been a tall order. On the other hand, this was a case in which citizens on two different PRCs overrode the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors. It is therefore reasonable to wonder whether citizen participation in the TEPCO trial would have reached a different verdict. The answer is not obvious.


III. Lessons

Sometimes a not-guilty verdict is a miscarriage of justice – recall O.J. Simpson’s acquittal for a double-murder in 1995 (Toobin, 1996). In our view, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the TEPCO executives acted with criminal negligence when they failed to exercise reasonable care in their management of the nuclear power plants at Fukushima. In fact, there was more evidence of guilt (and less room for reasonable doubt) in the TEPCO trial than in thousands of cases of negligence that result in the criminal conviction of automobile drivers in traffic accidents each year in Japan (Kawai, 2015; Takeda, 2019).

But while the TEPCO trial ended in acquittal, it was not all for naught. The trial and the criminal processes that preceded it revealed many facts that are proving useful to plaintiffs in their ongoing civil lawsuits with TEPCO and the Japanese government (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).25 The TEPCO prosecution also revealed facts that were previously unknown, concealed, or denied (Repeta, 2013; Herber, 2016; Takeda, 2019), and it promoted public discussion of issues related to nuclear power and regulation (Jones, 2019). The criminal process also clarified the truth about Fukushima by exposing many of TEPCO’s claims as humbug and hokum. In this sense, the TEPCO trial was an elaborate and successful act of “bullshit-detection” (Frankfurt, 2005).26 Thanks to the information revealed in this case, we now know that TEPCO executives had many opportunities to increase safety at the aging Fukushima plants, and that they had many good reasons to believe more safety was imperative (Acton and Hibbs, 2012). But instead of spending money to make the Fukushima facilities safer, and instead of making improvements that could have made Fukushima as safe as the nuclear reactors at Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture (just north of Fukushima), which were assaulted by the same size tsunami but had an entirely different fate, TEPCO executives paid dozens of celebrities to appear in advertising aimed at persuading the public that safety was the company’s top priority (Horvat, 2011, p.201). Safety was not TEPCO’s top priority. Profit was (Repeta, 2011, p.186). The “most critical question” for company executives was not “how safe is safe enough?” but rather “how can we maximize profits?” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.248). It is not clear whether TEPCO’s priorities have changed in the post-3/11 period. In many local areas, the company continues to push for the use of nuclear power, much as it has been doing for decades (Aldrich, 2010). Backed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and by the cabinet of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, TEPCO is also lobbying for permission to dump into the ocean up to one million tons of contaminated water that are currently stored in 1000 or so giant tanks on the Fukushima plant site (the water was pumped through the reactors to cool melted fuel that is too hot and radioactive to remove). TEPCO repeatedly claimed that all but one type of radioactive material (tritium, which is believed to pose a low risk to human health) had been removed to levels deemed safe for discharge under Japanese law, but in the summer of 2019 the company acknowledged that “only about one-fifth of the stored water had been effectively treated,” because TEPCO had not changed filters frequently enough in its decontamination system (Rich and Inoue, 2019). Fukushima fishermen believe that dumping the dirty water will destroy their already devastated business, and many observers believe TEPCO’s long history of dishonesty and deception means its assurances should not be trusted.

The three elderly defendants in the TEPCO trial returned home after they were acquitted, but they did not return to life as normal. The designated attorneys have appealed to the Tokyo High Court, which will hold hearings in the next year or two. Considering the tendencies of Japan’s conservative judiciary, convictions on appeal seem unlikely (Segi, 2015).

Japan’s criminal courts have long been criticized for having an “iron hand” of justice that results in conviction rates of “close to 100 percent” (Johnson, 2002, p.215),27 but in the TEPCO trial it was acquittals that prompted widespread criticism. A spokesman for Greenpeace said,
“A guilty verdict would have been a devastating blow not just to TEPCO but the Abe government and the Japanese nuclear industry. It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that the court has failed to rule based on the evidence. More than eight years after the start of this catastrophe, TEPCO and the government are still avoiding being held to full account for their decades of ignoring the science of nuclear risks”.28

Ishida Shozaburo, one of the designated attorneys, also claimed the fix was in. “This is a ruling that took the government’s nuclear power policy into consideration,” he lamented (The Mainichi, 9/20/2019). A more general version of this view holds that Japanese courts are often instruments of state power, and that Japanese judges routinely stand on the side of government by affirming its preferences – as they did in the TEPCO trial (Segi, 2014; Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2003).29

Lawyer Kaido Yuichi, who has represented victims of the Fukushima meltdown in various legal proceedings, echoed these views when he fumed that “I never imagined such a terrible ruling would be handed down…If criminal punishments can’t be pursued for causing an accident, a similar [nuclear] accident could occur again” (The Mainichi, September 20, 2019).

Members of a support group for victims and complainants who were waiting outside the Tokyo District Court “roared in anger” when they were informed of the acquittals (Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch, September 20, 2019). Yoshidome Akihiro, an 81-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner from Tokyo, said “I had braced myself that we might not get a clean victory, but this [result] is too awful. This shows Japanese courts don’t stand for people’s interest” (Japan Today, September 20, 2019).

And an editorial in Japan’s newspaper of record called the Tokyo court ruling “baffling” because it took “a surprisingly different stance toward the predictability of the tsunami from other [Japanese] court decisions concerning the matter” (Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch, September 20, 2019).30

Around the turn of the 20th century, the scientist Marie Currie carried around a vial of radium salt because she liked the pretty blue glow. Since then there have been many atomic mistakes, accidents, and disasters (Mahaffey, 2015). Two of the biggest were Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. The criminal justice consequences of both differed markedly from those in the Fukushima case.

On March 28, 1979, the accident that occurred at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania began when a pump providing cooling water to steam generators stopped running. This triggered a series of events that caused a nuclear reactor to shut down (Walker, 2006). It was the 13th time in a year that problems in the cooling system had caused a shutdown. The TMI accident was much less serious than the crisis at Fukushima, but the fundamental cause was “one common and dangerous belief: that an accident at Three Mile Island, or Fukushima Daiichi, just could not happen” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.142). TMI has been called “the most studied accident in U.S. history, at least up to that time” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.149). Many analysts agree that “the accident largely resulted from safety studies and reviews that focused too narrowly on nuclear plant designs and hardware and not sufficiently on the human part of the safety equation” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.149, emphasis added). For example, the Kemeny Commission (appointed by President Jimmy Carter) stressed “the failure of organizations to learn the proper lessons from previous incidents” and said “we are convinced that an accident like Three Mile Island was inevitable” (quoted in Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.150).31 Other studies have revealed that organizational and management factors, not technology, were the main cause of the TMI incident (Perrow, 1984; Pidgeon, 2011). Yet America’s nuclear industry was “uncowed by these conclusions,” and in the decades that followed, the industry and its supporters repeatedly emphasized that “nobody died at TMI.” This shibboleth would become “a huge stumbling block to comprehensive safety reform” in the United States and other countries, including Japan (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.150). In the end, a federal grand jury indicted the TMI operator, the Metropolitan Edison Company, for falsifying leak rate data and destroying documents related to the accident, but none of the human mistakes or misconduct resulted in the prosecution and conviction of corporate executives (Weinraub, 1983).

In the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a reactor exploded during a test of emergency power availability, killing at least 31 people (this official Soviet count is contested, and it does not include those who died from the effects of radiation exposure in the years that followed). The subsequent meltdown forced the evacuation of 135,000, and it spread radioactive material across Europe and beyond. This has been called “the world’s greatest nuclear disaster” (Higginbotham, 2019). After 3/11, it took Japan’s criminal justice system eight-and-one-half years to reach verdicts in criminal court. In Chernobyl, it took just three months for the head of the nuclear power station and two of his aids to be convicted of crimes and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. In a summation of the criminal court’s decision, the chief judge stressed that the Chernobyl plant had been poorly administered, and that “an atmosphere of lack of control and lack of responsibility” was the main cause of the disaster (New York Times, July 30, 1987). Three other Chernobyl employees were convicted of crimes and sentenced to 5 years, 3 years, and 2 years, respectively, and three other engineers who were criminally charged had their prosecutions terminated when they died. The criminal trial of the six people who were convicted lasted all of three weeks, and most of it was closed to the public. This was a rush to judgment of the kind that is common in repressive legal systems (Nonet and Selznick, 1978, p.29). As for the remains of Chernobyl itself, they now lie within an “exclusion zone” of 1000 square miles, where wildlife flourishes in what some have called “a radioactive Eden” (Higginbotham, 2019).

Another turn of the comparative kaleidoscope focuses on a non-nuclear accident involving Japan’s nearest neighbor, South Korea. The sinking of the M.V. Sewol ferry in South Korean waters on April 16, 2014 killed 304 people – 250 of them high-school students on a class trip. Lee Jun-seok, the captain of the Sewol, jumped a railing and abandoned ship. He was one of 172 passengers and crew to survive – and one of 15 members of the crew to be convicted of criminal charges related to the sinking (Lavery, 2019). In November 2014, the Gwangju District Court found Lee guilty of negligence and sentenced him to 36 years in prison. The chief engineer of the Sewol was convicted and received a 30-year sentence, and the 13 other defendants were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment up to 20 years. After the prosecution and defense appealed, Lee’s sentence was increased from 36 years to life imprisonment, while the other 14 defendants had their sentences reduced to a maximum term of incarceration of 12 years. This may not have been a rush to judgment in the Russian style, but it was fast enough to make many observers wonder if the “quick” was undermining the “careful.” The criminal prosecutions in the Sewol case were also shaped by brazenly populist and political forces that are common in Korean criminal justice (Choe, 2019) but more difficult to discern in high-profile cases in Japan – including the TEPCO case.32

The TEPCO case raises important questions about the capacity of the criminal law to hold corporations and their agents accountable. For many decades corporations have been, for good and for ill, some of the primary makers and managers of social change in Japanese society, and they are rightly considered the source of many of the country’s most serious crime problems (Miller and Kanazawa, 2000, pp.81-92). Some analysts believe the TEPCO acquittals are prima facie evidence that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the former executives in the first place (Goodman, 2019). But in our view, “a courtroom loss, even if predictable, does not mean the case should not have been brought” (Gillers, 2000). As described above, the TEPCO trial and criminal investigations revealed many important facts and performed a variety of functions, including increased public awareness of the risks of nuclear power.

Other analysts have criticized the Tokyo PRC for presuming the possibility of a “zero-risk society” (Sankei Shimbun, August 1, 2015). On this view, using law to promote extremely low tolerance for risk creates perverse incentives for business, governmental, and civilian actors, who may become too cautious about taking risks that would lead to economic growth. But when it comes to nuclear energy, the central risk is a disaster that could be catastrophic – and that was catastrophic at Fukushima and Chernobyl. The most perverse legal incentives are those put in place by the rules of limited liability that apply to corporations in Japan and many other nations, for in the event of a disaster they cap a corporation’s liability at the fire-sale value of its net assets. As Ramseyer (2012) has observed,

Because that maximum [amount of liability] falls far short of the social costs of a nuclear meltdown, Tokyo Electric will not pay the full cost of running these reactors. Instead, it can use the law to externalize the cost of doing business. It and the other power companies built nuclear reactors that could not survive expected earthquakes. But they did not do so foolishly. They did so because the limited liability at the heart of the corporate law made it profitable to do so.”

Ramseyer is right about the effects of the legal rule of limited liability, for it creates incentives for corporations to externalize the negative consequences of their actions. But we wonder about the wisdom of contrasting profit-seeking behavior with foolishness, for what is profitable can be foolish in the extreme – and Fukushima is Exhibit A. The legal regime under which TEPCO and many other corporations operate is perverse in that it encourages and condones harmful behavior if it is profitable to the company. It is even appropriate to ask a question that some may find inflammatory: are corporations “psychopathic?”
One hallmark of corporations is that they “lack the ability to care about anyone or anything but themselves” (Bakan, 2004, p.57). This is also a defining trait of psychopathy. And when an expert on psychopathology (Dr. Robert Hare) was asked how his checklist for diagnosing this condition in individuals applied to the character of corporations, he found a close match in several other respects (see Bakan, 2004, pp.56-57):

(1) Corporations are irresponsible in that they attempt to satisfy the goal of profitability and are willing to put much else at risk in the process.

(2) Corporations are manipulative about public opinion.

(3) Corporations are grandiose, frequently insisting on their own superiority.

(4) Corporations lack empathy for the victims of their behavior.

(5) Corporations are asocial and inconsiderate of the interests of others.

(6) Corporations refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.

(7) Corporations are unable to feel remorse.

(8) Corporations relate to others superficially, by presenting themselves to the public in a manner that seems appealing but does not reflect their real character.

In short, corporations are often “compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs” (Bakan, 2004, p.60). This is not mainly a matter of will or malevolence. Rather, the corporation has within it, as the shark has within it, “those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed” (Bakan, 2004, p.70). The result is a self-interested organization that is created and enabled by law yet difficult for law to control (Stone, 1975; Bakan, 2004; Barak, 2017). Japan’s lawmakers have done little to criminalize corporate misconduct (Matsuo, 2007), and Japanese prosecutors and judges have long been reluctant to punish corporations and their agents for the harms that they cause (Miller and Kanazawa, 2000; Johnson, 2000; Johnson, 2017). In these senses, Japanese criminal law and criminal justice resemble their counterparts in many other countries. In the TEPCO case, it was lay citizens on the Prosecution Review Commissions whose decisions led to the prosecution of a few corporate elites – and ultimately to their acquittal. In the end, Fukushima teaches lessons about the risks of nuclear energy, the awesome power to prosecute, and the limits of the criminal sanction. It also serves as a poignant reminder that “business as usual” for corporations can have terrible consequences for people and the planet, both in the present and far into the future.33 Experts believe it will take 40 to 200 years to clean up the Fukushima site (Jobin, 2019, p.73). In the meantime, the plant and its surroundings have become a huge storage area for radioactive waste and a grotesque monument to corporate misconduct, government dereliction, and criminal impunity.


Appendix: Fukushima Timeline

Our summary of the events leading to and resulting from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown of March 11, 2011 focuses narrowly, on a few decades before 3/11, and the decade or so after it. The first entries in the timeline are meant to highlight the context of 3/11 by describing events that preceded Japan’s triple disaster, while the remaining entries summarize the criminal justice aftermath.

Before 3/11

May 1960 – The Great Chilean earthquake (magnitude 9.4 – 9.6) is the largest ever recorded instrumentally. Estimates of the total number of fatalities from the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis range between 1000 and 7000. A 6-meter tsunami (20 feet) reached Japan 23 hours later, killing 138 people. In Chile, the tsunami reached 25 meters (82 feet). And the 35-foot tsunami that struck Hilo, Hawaii at 1:05 AM on May 23 killed 61 people. It was on the basis of these experiences that seawalls with normalized heights of 6 meters or so were constructed along the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan (Synokalis and Kanoglu, 2015).

1974 – Two scholars (SL Soloviev and ChN Go) publish a 310-page book (A Catalog of Tsunamis on the Western Shore of the Pacific Ocean) which refers to 19 studies (published between 1868 and 1969) of the magnitude 8.6 Jogan earthquake of 869 AD, which had an epicenter approximately 120 kilometers west of the earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011. This Russian book was translated into English in 1984. It assigned the Jogan tsunami an intensity of I = 4 (one of the highest values). Research published in 1971 showed that the magnitude 8.5 Showa Sanriku earthquake of 1933 generated a tsunami with heights up to 29 meters (95 feet). Hardest hit was the town of Taro in Iwate prefecture (now part of Miyako city), where 42 percent of the population was killed and 98 percent of the houses were destroyed. The seawall built to protect the Fukushima plant was 5.6 meters (18 feet). After 3/11, TEPCO argued repeatedly that there had been no reliable evidence of significantly larger tsunamis striking the eastern coast of Japan (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

July 1993 – A magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurs, causing the Hokkaido Nansei-oki tsunami that devastated the island of Okushiri with run-ups in some places reaching 30 meters (98 feet). Okushiri’s 4.5-meter seawall (15 feet) was overtopped by a tsunami of 11 meters (36 feet). In 1998, Japan spent over $600 million ($130,000 per Okushiri resident) to build an 11-meter seawall, to rebuild the main town of Aonae, and to protect about 20 kilometers (12 miles) of coastline.

2000 – Sugaoka Kei, a nuclear inspector working for General Electric at Fukushima No.1, notices a crack in a reactor’s steam dryer, which extracts excess moisture to prevent damage to the turbine. When TEPCO directs Sugaoka to cover up the evidence, he contacts government regulators, who order TEPCO to handle the problem on its own. TEPCO does, and Sugaoka is fired.

July 2002 – Japan’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion (HERP) publishes a long-term Evaluation of Seismic Activities (choki hyoka) which estimates a 20 percent chance of an M8.0 earthquake occurring in the next 30 years in the Japan Trench that includes Fukushima Prefecture.

August 2002 – The Japanese government reveals that TEPCO is guilty of false reporting in routine governmental inspections of its nuclear plants, and of concealing numerous plant safety incidents. All seventeen of TEPCO’s boiling-water reactors are shut down for inspection, and the company’s chairman, president, vice-president, and two advisers resign. TEPCO eventually admits that it submitted false technical data at least 200 times between 1977 and 2002. TEPCO’s new president announces that the company will take all necessary countermeasures to prevent fraud and restore the nation’s confidence, but in 2007 the company announces that an internal investigation has revealed other unreported incidents.

December 2004 – A 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra ruptures along a fault length of 1500 km (900 miles, or longer than the state of California). The rumbling lasts 10 minutes and causes a series of tsunami waves up to 30 meters high (100 feet), killing more than 220,000 people in 14 countries. This comes to be known as the Boxing Day Tsunami.

September 2006 – In response to a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Kobe that killed 6000 people in January 1995, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (an organization within the Cabinet Office) issues 14 pages of new guidelines “concerning inspection standards for vibration resistance,” and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) instructs nuclear power operators to conduct “backchecks” to confirm compliance with the new guidelines. The guidelines state that Japan’s nuclear facilities must be built to withstand tsunamis “which are appropriate to expect during the operational life [40 years] of the plant even though the possibility of such occurrence may be very rare.” But they provided no guidance about what would be “appropriate to expect” (Repeta, 2011, pp.188-189).

July 2007 – A 6.8 magnitude earthquake occurs in Niigata Prefecture. Later in 2007 TEPCO acknowledges that it had known since 2003 about the 14-mile-long active fault in the seabed about 11 miles from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but it had not reported its findings because company staff did not believe the fault could produce an earthquake large enough to threaten the reactors. After this earthquake, all seven units at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant are stopped and safety checks are performed. Without 20 percent of its generating capacity, TEPCO posts its first loss in 28 years, totaling $1.44 billion, and its stock value drops 30 percent. To boost public confidence, Shimizu Masataka replaces Katsumata Tsunehisa as the new TEPCO president, and Katsumata (who later became one of the TEPCO trial defendants) becomes chairman. Shimizu, a career TEPCO employee, makes cost-cutting a high priority, and within two years he returns TEPCO to profitability, exceeding his target of $615 million in cuts, partly by “reducing the frequency of inspections” (Lochbaum, Lyman, Stranahan, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014, pp.50-51).

March 2008 – TEPCO makes a tentative calculation that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters in height (52 feet) could strike the site of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The calculation is reported to vice-president Muto Sakae in June 2008.

July 2008 – Vice-president Muto puts on hold a TEPCO plan to take countermeasures against a large tsunami. He suggests taking more time to study the issue, and he asks an academic society specializing in this field to do the relevant research.

January 2010 – A 7.0 magnitude earthquake and more than 50 aftershocks occur in Haiti, killing approximately 160,000 people. The fishing town of Petit Paradis is hit by a localized tsunami, killing three people.

February 7, 2011 – After 40 years of operation, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) issues TEPCO a renewed license to operate Unit 1, the oldest nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi (No.1) Nuclear Power Plant.

March 11, 2011, 2:46 PM – The Great East Japan Earthquake (higashi nihon daishinsai) occurs at 2:46 PM, Japan Standard Time. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes off the northeast coast of Honshu, causing a tsunami that destroys many towns and villages. At the Fukushima Daiichi (No.1) Nuclear Power Plant, which was commissioned in 1971, the power supply and the cooling system for the reactor are damaged, causing nuclear fuel to overheat and melt down. Despite warnings from scientists, critical backup diesel generators had been placed in low-lying areas at high risk for tsunami damage. Some generators were put in the basement, and others were placed 10 to 13 meters above sea level. The tsunami heights coming ashore reached about 15 meters (49 feet). In the words of two engineering scholars who studied the meltdown, TEPCO’s placement of the emergency diesel generators was “inexplicably and fatally low” and made the Fukushima No. 1 plant “a sitting duck waiting to be flooded” (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

March 11, 2011, 7:03 PM – The Japanese government declares a nuclear emergency and issues evacuation orders to residents who live nearby. The evacuation boundaries are gradually expanded from 3 km to 30 km in the weeks to come. In total, approximately 170,000 people were evacuated from the “prohibited” and “on-alert” areas. In the coastal town of Namie-machi, mayor Baba Tomatsu learned of the nuclear crisis by watching TV, after which TEPCO and government officials directed citizen evacuees from his town of 21,000 directly into the path of the plume. Fifteen-thousand Namie citizens later signed a complaint against TEPCO, and Baba accused TEPCO and the government of “institutional murder” (Cleveland, 2019). In total, the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami killed approximately 18,000 people and forced about 400,000 to evacuate their homes in order to escape the nuclear fallout.

After 3/11

March 12, 2011 – Workers at the Fukushima plant open a Unit 2 reactor vent, which releases pressure and radioactive fumes from inside. The first of a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant rips through the building, but the reactor remains intact. Approximately 160,000 people living near the plant vacate their homes.

December 16, 2011 – Japan’s government says it has contained the leaking reactors, which are now in a state of cold shutdown.

June 11, 2012 – Some 1324 Fukushima residents file a criminal complaint with the Fukushima District Prosecutors Office against 33 TEPCO executives and government officials.

June 20, 2012 – TEPCO releases an accident report that says the strength of the tsunami was beyond what could have reasonably been foreseen.

July 4, 2012 – A panel of experts appointed by the Japanese Diet releases a report which concludes that the Fukushima nuclear accident was “a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” (National Diet of Japan, 2012). This report has been criticized for stressing the purported dysfunctions of “Japanese culture,” thereby obscuring personal and political responsibility for the decisions that led to the meltdown (Curtis, 2012).

September 7, 2013 – Tokyo is selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. In a speech to the International Olympic Committee, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo says the Fukushima crisis is “under control,” though decontamination and decommissioning work is expected to continue for decades.

September 9, 2013 – The Fukushima District Prosecutors Office officially transfers the criminal case to the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office. On the same day, prosecutors in Tokyo announce that they will not charge the TEPCO executives because there is little chance of obtaining convictions.

October 2013 – A Citizens Group from Fukushima asks a Prosecution Review Commission (kensatsu shinsakai) in Tokyo to review prosecutors’ non-charge decision against 6 of the former TEPCO executives.

July 2014 – The Prosecution Review Commission in Tokyo finds that “prosecution is appropriate” (kiso soto) for 3 of the former executives, which obligates prosecutors to reinvestigate the case.

January 2015 – For the second time, the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office decides not to charge the 3 former executives.

July 31, 2015 – A Prosecution Review Commission in Tokyo concludes for the second time that “prosecution is appropriate” (kiso soto), which initiates the process of “mandatory prosecution” (kyosei kiso). The panel of 11 citizens on this PRC decide that the three former executives should be tried for negligently causing: (a) the deaths of 44 patients from Futaba Hospital, who died during their evacuation from the area around the Fukushima plant, and (b) the injuries of 13 Self Defense soldiers who were hit by rubble thrown by explosions at the Fukushima plant. These 57 people became the designated victims in the TEPCO criminal trial.

August and September 2015 – The Tokyo District Court appoints five private attorneys (recommended by Nichibenren, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) to be the “designated attorneys” (shitei bengoshi) to play the role of prosecutor in the mandatory prosecution of the three former executives.

February 2016 – The designated attorneys charge the three former executives with “professional negligence resulting in death or injury” (gyomujo kashitsu chishishozai). The maximum criminal punishment for this crime is five years imprisonment or a fine of not more than 1 million yen (about $9100). This was the ninth case of mandatory prosecution since a legal reform in 2009 enabled PRCs to override the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors and compel prosecution. In the previous eight cases, only 2 out of 11 defendants were convicted.

March 17, 2017 – For the first time, a court orders TEPCO and the Japanese government to pay compensation (38.6 million yen, or about $340,000) to some of the residents who had fled their homes after the nuclear disaster. A total of at least 30 civil lawsuits have been filed against TEPCO and the Japanese government over their failure to anticipate and prevent the 2011 meltdown. As of September 2019, eight judgments have been rendered, and TEPCO has lost all eight (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).

June 30, 2017 – In the first session of their criminal trial at the Tokyo District Court, the three former executives plead “not guilty.” All claim they “do not recognize any predictability in the disaster.” Over the next 27 months, 37 more trial sessions are held. In the penultimate trial session on March 12, 2019, the designated attorneys asked the Court to impose a prison sentence of five years on each of the three defendants.

September 19, 2019 – The three TEPCO defendants are acquitted. Presiding Judge Nagafuchi Kenichi takes nearly three hours to read the court’s decision, which acknowledges that the executives were aware that a massive tsunami could strike the Fukushima plant, but concludes that there was not enough evidence to find that the executives should have suspended the plant’s operation in order to avoid a nuclear accident. The court-appointed prosecutors appealed on September 30, 2019, and the appeals process is expected to take at least a year or two.



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More precisely, the three former executives were charged with “causing death or bodily injury through negligence in the pursuit of social activities” (gyomujo kashitsu chishisho), which is defined by Article 211 of Japan’s Penal Code as follows: “A person who fails to exercise due care required in the pursuit of social activities and thereby causes the death or injury of another shall be punished by imprisonment with or without work for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than 1,000,000 yen. The same shall apply to a person who through gross negligence causes the death or injury of another”.


A discussion of the health effects of radiation is beyond the scope of this essay. For summaries, see Thomas and Symonds (2016) and Hooper (2015).


The number of civil lawsuits brought against TEPCO “is far fewer than the number brought in similar cases in the U.S.,” such as the Deepwater Horizon BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010 (Yamaguchi and Muto, 2012, p.5).


We define white-collar crime as “an illegal act, punishable by law, committed by an individual or organization in the course of a legitimate occupation wherein a public … trust is violated” (Walters, 2002, p.129).


On the perils of forgetting past tsunamis and neglecting their implications for the present, see Bonnie Henderson, The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast (2014), about a tsunami that struck the Oregon coast on March 27, 1964, after a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in Alaska. As geologic oceanographer Chris Goldfinger observes in this fine book, “It seems that the more ‘advanced’ a society becomes, the shorter its memory.” Two-and-one-half centuries earlier, on January 26, 1700, another massive tremor in the Pacific Northwest caused a tsunami that devastated coastal regions in Japan, some 5000 miles away. In a fascinating and frightening essay, Kathryn Schulz (2015) has summarized science that shows another earthquake and tsunami – “the really big one” – will sooner-or-later “destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest” of the United States. In her view, the only question is when – and northwestern North America is utterly unprepared for it.


The story of the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima is closely tied to Japan’s pursuit of rapid economic growth in the postwar period. Indeed, one fundamental cause of this disaster is “the boundless appetite for power needed to drive [Japan’s] economy” (Repeta, 2011, p.192).


A recent review of worldwide nuclear accident data found that “Japan has had more nuclear accidents of greater severity than other countries” (Behling, Williams, and Managi, 2019, p.308).


Unlike the selection of jurors in the United States and of lay judges in Japan, there is no voir dire for selecting PRC members, though some citizens are excluded by law from participating, including ex-convicts and elected officials. Each member of a PRC serves for six months, and a foreperson is selected to lead it. The PRC system is administered by a government office known as the Prosecution Review Commission Office, and each PRC is largely reliant on secretaries (jimukan) in the judiciary for assistance in managing and processing its caseloads (Fukurai, 2013).


In addition to corporate and white-collar crime, at least two other types of crime are under-prosecuted in many societies, including Japan and the United States: sexual assaults, and domestic violence. In the United States, shootings by police are seldom charged as well (Zimring, 2017, ch.9). On the tendency of law (“governmental social control”) to more often be directed “downward” (toward persons who lack wealth, power, prestige, and influence) than “upward,” see Donald Black, 1976, pp.11-36. On the same tendency in Japan, see David T. Johnson (1999), which echoes Jonathan Swift by noting that criminal laws in Japan “are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”


One question concerns how much influence legal advisors have on PRC decision-making. More research is needed on this subject, but three things seem clear. First, the legal advisor’s role is important. Second, many legal advisors are unsure how proactive to be in their interactions with PRC members, and some believe they should not lead a PRC to deliberate or vote in a certain way. Third, final authority for making a charge decision rests with the PRC. Note, too, that requests for PRC review come from ordinary citizens (not from legal advisors), and that in high-profile cases (such as TEPCO and Rikuzankai), the citizens who serve on a PRC are often aware of relevant facts and issues. For more on legal advisors, see JFBA (2016).


In most cases of mandatory prosecution, the designated attorneys are not well paid. In the TEPCO case, for example, each designated attorney was paid less than 1,000,000 yen per year, which is less than $10,000 (Nishimura, 2019). In 2016, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations published a 15-page report recommending a number of PRC reforms, including pay increases, “management improvements,” and other “system reforms” (see JFBA, 2016).


Japan’s PRCs are not the only legal institutions that have failed to produce many criminal convictions. In nearly two decades, the highly publicized International Criminal Court “has won only four convictions, and its caseload has consisted mainly of African leaders” (see Londono, 2019).


Death and serious injury are common in Japanese judo classes. From 1983 to 2011, at least 118 students died as a result of judo class exercises (an average of 4 deaths per year). In the Nagano trial, Kojima Takeshima, the father of one judo victim (Kojima Musashi) and the vice president of the Judo Accident Victims Association, testified about the frequency of judo deaths and injuries.


The figures for 1949 to 2001 come from unpublished studies by former prosecutor Yamashita Terutoshi. We are grateful for his assistance. For the decade from 2002 to 2011, Yamashita found that the charge rate by prosecutors after a PRC “kicked back” a case was 25 percent.


The five white-collar crime indictments are: (1) professional negligence by the Deputy Chief of the Akashi Police Department in the Akashi Pedestrian Bridge incident; (2) professional negligence by three railway company presidents in the JR West Amagasaki Rail Crash case; (3) insider trading by a company president in the Okinawa Unlisted Stock Fraud case; (4) political funding violations by Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ozawa Ichiro in the Rikuzankai case; and (5) corporate and professional negligence by three executives in the TEPCO case.


Article 2 of Japan’s Code of Criminal Procedure states that “The territorial jurisdiction of courts is determined by the place where the crime was committed, the place where the domicile or the residence of the accused is located, or the place where the accused is at present.” In the TEPCO case, the second and third provisions were deemed to trump the first one, though the process by which this occurred warrants additional study (Articles 17, 18, and 19 of the CCP are also relevant).


More precisely, control of the TEPCO case shifted from Fukushima to Tokyo through shobun seikun (“request for instructions as to steps to be taken”), which is “less a form of consultation and approval than a complete ‘takeover’ of the case by prosecutor executives” (Johnson, 2002, p.131).


Some analysts believe prosecutors did not want to indict TEPCO executives because a former Prosecutor General (kenji socho, which is Japan’s top prosecutor) had “descended from heaven” (“amakudatte iru”) to be an auditor (kansayaku) for the company (Kawai, 2015). On this view, corruption and/or old-boy influence caused prosecutors not to charge.


Summaries of each TEPCO trial session and of the judicial decision are available here.


Trials before lay judge panels need to be more concentrated in time than trials before panels of professional judges because the citizens who serve as lay judges have work and family responsibilities.


If the TEPCO executives really believed that a severe nuclear accident was impossible, their belief must have been the product of considerable “confirmation bias” (the tendency to overvalue evidence that supports a pre-existing belief and undervalue evidence that contradicts it). Responsibility for the failure to recognize and resist this bias can be located in many actors and institutions, but much of it surely belongs in TEPCO’s safety-second organizational culture (Diet Report, 2012) and in Japan’s lax system of regulation (Kingston, 2012). The next sub-section suggests that Japanese judges in the TEPCO trial may also have been influenced by confirmation bias in their evaluation of evidence about safety and reasonable care.


Of course, even after 3/11, the “myth of safety” was not always acknowledged to be a fairy tale, even in the United States (Pascale, 2017).


A legal “duty of care” is the requirement that a person act toward other people and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then his or her acts are considered “negligent.”


The Tokyo District Court also disregarded evidence that TEPCO had repeatedly concealed nuclear plant safety incidents. As explained in the Timeline in our Appendix, TEPCO admitted in August 2002 that it had submitted false technical data at least 200 times between 1977 and 2002, and in 2007 it announced that an internal investigation had revealed still more unreported safety problems.


In civil cases in Japan, nuclear victims “have to overcome high hurdles to make use of judicial remedies,” and most lawyers have not been educated to employ innovative strategies within their practice (Suami, 2015, p.184). More generally, on the consequences of Fukushima in Japanese civil and administrative law, see Matsui (2018) and Jobin (2019).


Princeton University philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt believes one of the most salient features of modern cultures is that “there is so much bullshit,” and he argued that “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are” (Frankfurt, 2005, pp.1, 61). For similar views, see Michiko Kakutani’s (2018) account of “the death of truth,” “the decline and fall of reason,” and the rise of “propaganda and fake news” in the modern world.


The common view is simplistic and misleading. A Japanese criminal justice system that convicts almost all defendants is actually quite protective of the interests of criminal suspects, because many suspects who would get charged in similar circumstances in other criminal justice systems (including those in the USA) do not get charged in Japan (Johnson, 2002, p.214; Foote, 1992, pp.346-350; Bazelon, 2019).


The acquittals in the TEPCO trial were not only important to Japan’s nuclear industries and the Abe administration, which has long supported nuclear power. They were also welcomed by proponents of nuclear energy around the world, including GE, Westinghouse, Areva, and the uranium mining industry.


For an insightful critique of two contrasting views of Japan’s judiciary (“Political Lackeys or Faithful Public Servants?”), see Frank Upham (2005).


A spokesman for TEPCO declined to comment on the acquittals but said the company expressed its “sincere apologies for the great inconvenience and concern that the TEPCO Fukushima nuclear accident has caused on the people of Fukushima prefecture and society as a whole” (quoted in Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019). He might just as well have said: “Sorry about the radiation, folks. We know it is inconvenient.”



John G. Kemeny was the President of Dartmouth College. The complete text of the Kemeny Commission’s report (1979, pp.1-178) is available here.


There are, of course, other cases that could be compared to TEPCO. One is the Deepwater Horizon (British Petroleum) oil spill of April 2010, which was the largest marine oil spill on record and one of the biggest environmental disasters in American history. The original explosion killed 11 workers, and nearly 5 million barrels of oil (210 million gallons) were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. In November 2012, British Petroleum and the U.S. Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges, with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. BP also agreed to four years of government monitoring of its safety practices and ethics, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that BP would be temporarily banned from new contracts with the US government. In 2014, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its “gross negligence” and “reckless conduct.” As of 2018, cleanup costs, charges, and penalties had cost the company more than $65 billion (including $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history). By comparison, the Japan Center for Economic Research has estimated that cleanup costs for Fukushima will reach at least $470 billion.


The most urgent example of the perils of “business as usual” is global warming, which is “worse, much worse” than most people think (Wallace-Wells, 2019). Without major change in how corporations conduct business (and how billions of people conduct their lives), parts of planet earth could well become “close to uninhabitable” by the end of this century, and other parts will surely become “horribly inhospitable” (Wallace-Wells, 2019). We do not claim that solutions to this problem are simple, and we thank Japan Focus editor Mark Selden for pointing out the importance of considering the possibility (and necessity?) of “slower growth in a redistributive world economy” (email of December 25, 2019). We also recognize that some analysts believe nuclear energy is a “viable and practical solution to global warming” (Cravens, 2008). Even Adam Higginbotham (2019), author of a terrifying history of the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, observes that from a statistical point of view, nuclear power is safer than alternative sources of energy such as coal and oil.


January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan Gov’t liability denied for nukes damages, Tepco to pay minimal damages to evacuees

Satoshi Abe (standing), head of the plaintiffs’ legal team, speaks at a news conference following the Yamagata District Court ruling in the city of Yamagata, northern Japan, on Dec. 17. 2019.
TEPCO ordered to pay minimal damages to Fukushima evacuees; Japan gov’t liability denied
December 18, 2019
YAMAGATA — The Yamagata District Court on Dec. 17 ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to pay a total of 440,000 yen in damages to five plaintiffs who evacuated due to the March 2011 triple-meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, while also absolving the Japanese state of liability.
Not only did the ruling dismiss the plaintiffs’ damages claims against the central government, the compensation amount falls far short of the more than 8-billion-yen (about $73 million) total sought by the 734 people in 201 households who were party to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs, who evacuated from Fukushima to neighboring Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan following the nuclear disaster, have stated they will appeal.
The ruling was the 13th by a district court in similar cases filed across the country. Among those, 10 lawsuits were filed against the government and TEPCO, and the state was found liable in six of them.
Regarding the plaintiffs beyond the five granted compensation, Presiding Judge Nobuyuki Kaihara stated that “the consolation money sought does not exceed what they have already been paid by Tokyo Electric,” among other reasons for denying them damages.
The decision went on to say that “there was a limit” to what degree the tsunami that disabled the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s cooling systems could have been predicted, and therefore the Japanese state was not liable to pay the nuclear disaster evacuees compensation. The court also found that though TEPCO was liable for some damages, “we cannot conclude that the company committed gross negligence. Practically speaking, it is difficult to say that the firm could have implemented rational controls (at the plant) to prevent an accident.”
The plaintiffs’ suit had demanded 11 million yen in compensation per person — the highest of any nuclear disaster evacuee civil suit in Japan save one filed with the Fukushima District Court. More than 90% of the households that were party to the Yamagata lawsuit had lived in the city of Fukushima and other parts of the northeastern prefecture not covered by mandatory evacuation orders.
“The ruling was a result that betrayed our expectations,” commented Satoshi Abe, who led the plaintiffs’ legal team. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulation Authority secretariat refrained from comment on the case, while TEPCO stated that it would “examine the content of the ruling and consider a response.”
Court denies state liability for nuke damages
December 18, 2019
YAMAGATA (Jiji Press) — The Yamagata District Court rejected Tuesday the claim that the government is liable for damages over the March 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Meanwhile, the court ordered TEPCO to pay a total of ¥440,000 in compensation to five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by 734 people of 201 households who evacuated to Yamagata Prefecture after the nuclear accident.
About 90% of the plaintiffs, who sought some ¥8,074 million in total damages, are evacuees from outside areas for which a government evacuation order was issued following the triple meltdown accident at the plant, stricken by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The ruling marked the 10th of its kind for collective lawsuits against the government and TEPCO over the nuclear accident. This is the fourth time that state liability for damages has been denied.
The plaintiffs said the government and TEPCO could have predicted a tsunami that would lead to a nuclear accident on the basis of a long-term assessment to forecast the scale and probability of earthquakes. The assessment was disclosed by a government organization in 2002.
The accident could have been avoided if the government and TEPCO had set up coastal levees and made the emergency power system watertight, the plaintiffs also said.
But Presiding Judge Nobuyuki Kaihara rejected the claim of government liability for compensation. “Although there was a foreseeability [of the accident], we can’t help saying that there was a limit to it,” he said.
The court ordered TEPCO to pay some compensation under the law to compensate for nuclear-related damages.
“I wanted [the court] to understand our hardship,” said a female plaintiff who evacuated with her three children from Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the crippled nuclear power plant

December 24, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite Fukushima acquittals, TEPCO must do more to regain public trust

September 20, 2019
The Tokyo District Court has acquitted three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc. of professional negligence causing death or injury over the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns at the utility’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
At issue was whether the three officials could have foreseen the nuclear disaster triggered by tsunamis that hit Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and averted the damage. In its verdict, the court ruled out the predictability on the part of the former senior executives, who were forcibly indicted over the disaster, highlighting the huge hurdles in holding the defendants liable for the catastrophe in a criminal court.
While the ruling acknowledged that the three men were aware that massive tsunamis could strike the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant based on a report from their subordinates and through meetings, the court pointed out that the report and other information lacked sufficient grounds and were not enough to mandate them to suspend the operation of the nuclear plant to avoid an accident.
In criminal trials, defendants may be detained if found guilty, and therefore stricter fact-finding is called for than in civil trials. The reasoning that the defendants cannot be found guilty of negligence unless they could predict damage with a sense of urgency was behind the latest ruling in favor of TEPCO bosses.
The report in question pertained to the long-term evaluation of earthquake risks that the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion released in 2002. While the evaluation stated that massive tsunamis could arise off Fukushima Prefecture, the court decision ruled out the credibility of the evaluation itself.
However, the ruling does not exonerate TEPCO from its responsibility for the nuclear crisis once and for all.
The government’s fact-finding committee set up to investigate the Fukushima disaster recognized that there were composite problems on the part of the government and TEPCO. In addition, the Diet’s independent investigation commission even concluded that the nuclear disaster was a “man-made calamity.” These findings will not be overturned by the latest court decision.
In the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the then Soviet Union in 1986, the Japanese government and the country’s electric industry including TEPCO repeatedly insisted that there would be no nuclear accident in Japan. Yet decades later, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster did happen.
As a matter of course, power companies must pursue the safety of their nuclear complexes to the maximum extent in anticipation of all possible scenarios, including natural disasters. Once a nuclear accident occurs, people are driven out of their hometowns and deprived of them. More than eight years after the onset of the Fukushima crisis, over 40,000 Fukushima residents are still living as evacuees within and outside the prefecture. The price that people have to pay for nuclear disasters is way too high.
Even though the three former executives were declared innocent, TEPCO needs to continue organizational efforts to recover public trust.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO acquittals spark ire: ‘People who died cannot rest in peace’

Members of a support group for a criminal complaint over the Fukushima nuclear accident show papers on Sept. 19 in front of the Tokyo District Court that read: “All are innocent. It is an unjustified ruling.”
September 20, 2019
Bewilderment quickly turned into outrage after the Tokyo District Court absolved three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. of criminal responsibility for the 2011 nuclear accident that forced thousands of residents to flee.
Some of those affected by the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami say that their loved ones who died after evacuation orders were issued will receive no justice.
Soon after 1:15 p.m. on Sept. 19, members of a group that supports the criminal complaint against the former executives appeared in front of the district court and held up papers that read: “All are innocent. It is an unjustified ruling.”
People waiting there for the ruling roared in anger, with some muttering, “This must be a joke.”
Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, a former TEPCO chairman, Ichiro Takekuro, 73, a former vice president, and Sakae Muto, 69, also a former vice president, had received mandatory indictments on charges of professional negligence resulting in the deaths of 44 people who were forced to evacuate and the injuries of others at the start of the nuclear disaster.
They were cleared of the charges after the court ruled that they could not have realistically foreseen a disaster of such magnitude.
“As I have thought, there is a gap in common sense (between the court) and the general public,” Masakatsu Kanno, 75, said after hearing the ruling in the public gallery in the court.
Kanno was relocated from Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, a host town of the crippled nuclear plant, to Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, after the accident.
When the tsunami slammed into the nuclear plant on March 11, 2011, his father, Kenzo, was an inpatient at Futaba Hospital in Okuma. Kenzo was forced to stay in the hospital for several days.
He was later transferred to evacuation centers and hospitals, covering a total distance of 250 kilometers. In June that year, he died at the age of 99.
“Many people were forced to evacuate and are still placed in a situation in which they have no prospects of returning (to their hometowns),” Kanno said. “Don’t the top executives of TEPCO have to take responsibility?”
Mieko Okubo, 66, an evacuee who returned to her hometown of Iitate, about 40 km from the nuclear plant, in spring this year, listened to the ruling on her television.
A month after the nuclear accident unfolded, residents in Iitate were told that they will be ordered to evacuate.
Okubo at the time was living with her father-in-law, Fumio, then 102. He told her: “I don’t want to evacuate. I have lived too long.”
He later hanged himself in the home.
Okubo sued TEPCO, and a court recognized a cause-and-effect relation between the nuclear accident and Fumio’s suicide.
But in the criminal trial of the former executives, the only people indicted over the nuclear disaster, the district court acquitted them all.
“People who died cannot rest in peace. Empty feelings will remain in the hearts of the bereaved family members,” Okubo said.
Prosecutors had twice dropped the case against the three former TEPCO executives, citing a lack of evidence.
But the case went to independent judicial panels of citizens, who recommended mandatory indictments against the three. They were indicted in February 2016.
The prosecution side, citing the central government’s long-term earthquake forecast, argued that the three defendants knew that a towering tsunami could hit the plant but failed to take appropriate countermeasures.
The court questioned the credibility of the forecast.
It also said that it would have been impossible for the three defendants to take measures against all natural phenomena, including tsunami.
Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, who played the role of a prosecutor in the trial, criticized the ruling at a news conference.
“The court said that nuclear power plants are not required to have absolute safety,” he said. “This is a ruling that took the government’s nuclear power policy into consideration.”
Ishida also took issue with the court’s reasoning.
“If an accident occurs, it is impossible to recover the original state. Is it tolerable for top executives who manage a nuclear power plant to have such a (low) level of thinking?” he said.
Ishida declined to say if he would appeal the ruling to a higher court.
“I want to think about it by examining the ruling in detail and hearing the opinions of people affected (by the nuclear accident),” he said.
Lawyer Yuichi Kaido said some good did come from the trial.
“If the trial was not held, many important pieces of evidence, such as records of meetings of TEPCO and e-mails written by its executives, would not have come to light.”
The court heard, for example, that former Chairman Katsumata had “no interest” in setting up additional safety measures at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Ruiko Muto, head of the group that filed the criminal complaint against the former TEPCO executives, expressed resentment over the ruling.
“Despite the many evidence and testimonies, why weren’t (they) found guilty? I think this ruling is wrong,” she said.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

From March 29, 2011: Special Report: Japan engineers knew tsunami could overrun plant

TEPCO’s negligence and responsibility!

Japanese engineers knew a huge tsunami could happen in 2007, but TEPCO management ignored them! Now, no legal punishment for the managers who ignored the scientific facts! Note: this article is from 2011 yet it remains relevant in light of recent events.


Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. (TEPCO) Vice President Sakae Muto (C) bows at a news conference at the company head office in Tokyo March 28, 2011.


Special Report: Japan engineers knew tsunami could overrun plant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Over the past two weeks, Japanese government officials and Tokyo Electric Power executives have repeatedly described the deadly combination of the most powerful quake in Japan’s history and the massive tsunami that followed as “soteigai,” or beyond expectations.

When Tokyo Electric President Masataka Shimizu apologized to the people of Japan for the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant he called the double disaster “marvels of nature that we have never experienced before”.

But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co’s senior safety engineer.

We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon,” Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.

The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.

Meanwhile, Japanese nuclear regulators clung to a model that left crucial safety decisions in the hands of the utility that ran the plant, according to regulatory records, officials and outside experts.

Among examples of the failed opportunities to prepare for disaster, Japanese nuclear regulators never demanded that Tokyo Electric reassess its fundamental assumptions about earthquake and tsunami risk for a nuclear plant built more than four decades ago. In the 1990s, officials urged but did not require that Tokyo Electric and other utilities shore up their system of plant monitoring in the event of a crisis, the record shows.

Even though Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, (NISA) one of the three government bodies charged with nuclear safety, cataloged the damage to nuclear plant vent systems from an earlier earthquake, it did not require those to be protected against future disasters or hardened against explosions.

That marked a sharp break with safety practices put in place in the United States in the 1980s after Three Mile Island, even though Japan modeled its regulation on U.S. precedents and even allowed utilities to use American disaster manuals in some cases.

Ultimately, when the wave was crashing in, everything came down to the ability of Tokyo Electric’s front-line workers to carry out disaster plans under intense pressure.

But even in normal operations, the regulatory record shows Tokyo Electric had been cited for more dangerous operator errors over the past five years than any other utility. In a separate 2008 case, it admitted that a 17-year-old worker had been hired illegally as part of a safety inspection at Fukushima Daiichi.

It’s a bit strange for me that we have officials saying this was outside expectations,” said Hideaki Shiroyama, a professor at the University of Tokyo who has studied nuclear safety policy. “Unexpected things can happen. That’s the world we live in.”

He added: “Both the regulators and TEPCO are trying to avoid responsibility.”

Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California, said the government’s approach of relying heavily on Tokyo Electric to do the right thing largely on its own had clearly failed.

The Japanese government is receiving some advice, but they are relying on the already badly stretched resources of TEPCO to handle this,” said Meshkati, a researcher of the Chernobyl disaster who has been critical of the company’s safety record before. “Time is not on our side.”

The revelation that Tokyo Electric had put a number to the possibility of a tsunami beyond the designed strength of its Fukushima nuclear plant comes at a time when investor confidence in the utility is in fast retreat.

Shares in the world’s largest private utility have lost almost three-fourth of their value — $30 billion — since the March 11 earthquake pushed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into crisis. Analysts see a chance the utility will be nationalized by the Japanese government in the face of mounting liability claims and growing public frustration.


The tsunami research presented by a Tokyo Electric team led by Toshiaki Sakai came on the first day of a three-day conference in July 2007 organized by the International Conference on Nuclear Engineering.

It represented the product of several years of work at Japan’s top utility, prompted by the 2004 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that had shaken the industry’s accepted wisdom. In that disaster, the tsunami that hit Indonesia and a dozen other countries around the Indian Ocean also flooded a nuclear power plant in southern India. That raised concerns in Tokyo about the risk to Japan’s 55 nuclear plants, many exposed to the dangerous coast in order to have quick access to water for cooling.

Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, some 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was a particular concern.

The 40-year-old nuclear complex was built near a quake zone in the Pacific that had produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher four times in the past 400 years — in 1896, 1793, 1677 and then in 1611, Tokyo Electric researchers had come to understand.

Based on that history, Sakai, a senior safety manager at Tokyo Electric, and his research team applied new science to a simple question: What was the chance that an earthquake-generated wave would hit Fukushima? More pressing, what were the odds that it would be larger than the roughly 6-meter (20 feet) wall of water the plant had been designed to handle?

The tsunami that crashed through the Fukushima plant on March 11 was 14 meters high.

Sakai’s team determined the Fukushima plant was dead certain to be hit by a tsunami of one or two meters in a 50-year period. They put the risk of a wave of 6 meters or more at around 10 percent over the same time span.

In other words, Tokyo Electric scientists realized as early as 2007 that it was quite possible a giant wave would overwhelm the sea walls and other defenses at Fukushima by surpassing engineering assumptions behind the plant’s design that date back to the 1960s.

Company Vice President Sakae Muto said the utility had built its Fukushima nuclear power plant “with a margin for error” based on its assessment of the largest waves to hit the site in the past.

That would have included the magnitude 9.5 Chile earthquake in 1960 that killed 140 in Japan and generated a wave estimated at near 6 meters, roughly in line with the plans for Fukushima Daiichi a decade later.

It’s been pointed out by some that there could be a bigger tsunami than we had planned for, but my understanding of the situation is that there was no consensus among the experts,” Muto said in response to a question from Reuters.

Despite the projection by its own safety engineers that the older assumptions might be mistaken, Tokyo Electric was not breaking any Japanese nuclear safety regulation by its failure to use its new research to fortify Fukushima Daiichi, which was built on the rural Pacific coast to give it quick access to sea water and keep it away from population centers.

There are no legal requirements to re-evaluate site related (safety) features periodically,” the Japanese government said in a response to questions from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2008.

In fact, in safety guidelines issued over the past 20 years, Japanese nuclear safety regulators had all but written off the risk of a severe accident that would test the vaunted safety standards of one of their 55 nuclear reactors, a key pillar of the nation’s energy and export policies.

That has left planning for a strategy to head off runaway meltdown in the worst case scenarios to Tokyo Electric in the belief that the utility was best placed to handle any such crisis, according to published regulations.

In December 2010, for example, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission said the risk for a severe accident was “extremely low” at reactors like those in operation at Fukushima. The question of how to prepare for those scenarios would be left to utilities, the commission said.

A 1992 policy guideline by the NSC also concluded core damage at one of Japan’s reactors severe enough to release radiation would be an event with a probability of once in 185 years. So with such a limited risk of happening, the best policy, the guidelines say, is to leave emergency response planning to Tokyo electric and other plant operators.


Over the past 20 years, nuclear operators and regulators in Europe and the United States have taken a new approach to managing risk. Rather than simple defenses against failures, researchers have examined worst-case outcomes to test their assumptions, and then required plants to make changes.

They have looked especially at the chance that a single calamity could wipe out an operator’s main defense and its backup, just as the earthquake and tsunami did when the double disaster took out the main power and backup electricity to Fukushima Daiichi.

Japanese nuclear safety regulators have been slow to embrace those changes.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), one of three government bodies with responsibility for safety policy and inspections, had published guidelines in 2005 and 2006 based on the advances in regulation elsewhere but did not insist on their application.

Since, in Japanese safety regulation, the application of risk information is scarce in experience � (the) guidelines are in trial use,” the NISA said.

Japanese regulators and Tokyo Electric instead put more emphasis on regular maintenance and programs designed to catch flaws in the components of their aging plants.

That was the thinking behind extending the life of the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, which had been scheduled to go out of commission in February after a 40-year run.

But shutting down the reactor would have made it much more difficult for Japan to reach its target of deriving half of its total generation of electricity from nuclear power by June 2010 — or almost double its share in 2007.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) figured it could reach the target by building at least 14 new nuclear plants, and running existing plants harder and longer. Fukushima’s No. 1 reactor was given a 10-year extension after Tokyo Electric submitted a maintenance plan.

Safety regulators, who also belong to METI, did not require Tokyo Electric to rethink the fundamental safety assumptions behind the plant. The utility only had to insure the reactor’s component parts were not being worn down dangerously, according to a 2009 presentation by the utility’s senior maintenance engineer.

That kind of thinking — looking at potential problems with components without seeing the risk to the overall plant — was evident in the way that Japanese officials responded to trouble with backup generators at a nuclear reactor even before the tsunami.

On four occasions over the past four years, safety inspectors from Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were called in to review failures with backup diesel generators at nuclear plants.

In June 2007, an inspector was dispatched to Fukushima’s No. 4 reactor, where the backup generator had caught fire after a circuit breaker was installed improperly, according to the inspector’s report.

There is no need of providing feedback to other plants for the reason that no similar event could occur,” the June 2007 inspection concluded.

The installation had met its safety target. Nothing in that report or any other shows safety inspectors questioned the placement of the generators on low ground near the shore where they proved to be at highest risk for tsunami damage at Fukushima Daiichi.


Japanese nuclear regulators have handed primary responsibility for dealing with nuclear plant emergencies to the utilities themselves. But that hinges on their ability to carry them out in an actual crisis, and the record shows that working in a nuclear reactor has been a dangerous and stressful job in Japan even under routine conditions.

Inspectors with Japan’s Nuclear Energy Safety Organization have recorded 18 safety lapses at Tokyo Electric’s 17 nuclear plants since 2005. Ten of them were attributed to mistakes by staff and repairmen.

They included failures to follow established maintenance procedures and failures to perform prescribed safety checks. Even so, Tokyo Electric was left on its own to set standards for nuclear plant staff certification, a position some IAEA officials had questioned in 2008.

In March 2004, two workers in Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daini plant passed out when the oxygen masks they were using – originally designed for use on an airplane – began leaking and allowed nitrogen to seep into their air supply.

The risks also appear to have made it hard to hire for key positions. In 2008, Toshiba admitted it had illegally used six employees under the age of 18 as part of a series of inspections of nuclear power plants at Tokyo Electric and Tohoku Electric. One of those minors, then aged 17, had participated in an inspection of the Fukushima Daiichi No. 5 reactor, Tokyo Electric said then.

The magnitude 9.0 quake struck on Friday afternoon of March 11 — the most powerful in Japan’s long history of them — pushed workers at the Fukushima plant to the breaking point as injuries mounted and panic took hold.

Hiroyuki Nishi, a subcontractor who had been moving scaffolding inside Reactor No. 3 when the quake hit, described a scene of chaos as a massive hook came crashing down next to him. “People were shouting ‘Get out, get out!’” Nishi said. “Everyone was screaming.”

In the pandemonium, workers pleaded to be let out, knowing a tsunami was soon to come. But Tokyo Electric supervisors appealed for calm, saying each worker had to be tested first for radiation exposure. Eventually, the supervisors relented, threw open the doors to the plant and the contractors scrambled for high ground just ahead of the tsunami.

After the wave receded, two employee were missing, apparently washed away while working on unit No. 4. Two contractors were treated for leg fractures and two others were treated for slight injuries. A ninth worker was being treated for a stroke.

In the chaos of the early response, workers did not notice when the diesel pumps at No. 2 ran out of fuel, allowing water levels to fall and fuel to become exposed and overheat. When the Fukushima plant suffered its second hydrogen blast in three days the following Monday, Tokyo electric executives only notified the prime minister’s office an hour later. Seven workers had been injured in the explosion along with four soldiers.

An enraged Prime Minister Naoto Kan pulled up to Tokyo Electric’s headquarters the next morning before dawn. “What the hell is going on?” reporters outside the closed-door discussion reported hearing Kan demand angrily of senior executives.

Errors of judgment by workers in the hot zone and errors of calculation by plant managers hampered the emergency response a full week later as some 600 soldiers and workers struggled to contain the spread of radiation.

On Thursday, two workers at Fukushima were shuttled to the hospital to be treated for potential radiation burns after wading in water in the turbine building of reactor No. 3. The workers had ignored their radiation alarms thinking they were broken.

Then Tokyo electric officials pulled workers back from an effort to pump water out of the No. 2 reactor and reported that radiation readings were 10 million times normal. They later apologized, saying that reading was wrong. The actual reading was still 100,000 times normal, Tokyo Electric said.

The government’s chief spokesman was withering in his assessment. “The radiation readings are an important part of a number of important steps we’re taking to protect safety,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. “There is no excuse for getting them wrong.”


Although U.S. nuclear plant operators were required to install “hardened” vent systems in the 1980s after the Three Mile Island incident, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission rejected the need to require such systems in 1992, saying that should be left to the plant operators to decide.

A nuclear power plant’s vent represents one of the last resorts for operators struggling to keep a reactor from pressure that could to blow the building that houses it apart and spread radiation, which is what happened at Chernobyl 25 years ago. A hardened vent in a U.S. plant is designed to behave like the barrel on a rifle, strong enough to withstand an explosive force from within.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded in the late 1980s that the General Electric designed Mark I reactors, like those used at Fukushima, required safety modifications.

The risks they flagged, and that Tokyo did not heed, would come back to haunt Japan in the Fukushima crisis.

First, U.S. researchers concluded that a loss of power at one of the nuclear plants would be one of the “dominant contributors” to the most severe accidents. Flooding of the reactor building would worsen the risks. The NRC also required U.S. plants to install “hard pipe” after concluding the sheet-metal ducts used in Japan could make things much worse.

Venting via a sheet metal duct system could result in a reactor building hydrogen burn,” researchers said in a report published in November 2008.

In the current crisis, the failure of the more vulnerable duct vents in Fukushima’s No. 1 and No. 3 reactors may have contributed to the hydrogen explosions that blew the roof off the first and left the second a tangled hulk of steel beams in the first three days of the crisis.

The plant vents, which connect to the big smokestack-like towers, appear to have been damaged in the quake or the tsunami, one NISA official said.

Even without damage, opening the vulnerable vents in the presence of a build-up of hydrogen gas was a known danger. In the case of Fukushima, opening the vents to relieve pressure was like turning on an acetylene torch and then watching the flame “shoot back into the fuel tank,” said one expert with knowledge of Fukushima who asked not to be identified because of his commercial ties in Japan.

Tokyo Electric began venting the No. 1 reactor on March 12 just after 10 a.m. An hour earlier the pressure in the reactor was twice its designed limit. Six hours later the reactor exploded.

The same pattern held with reactor No. 3. Venting to relieve a dangerous build-up of pressure in the reactor began on March 13. A day later, the outer building – a concrete and steel shell known as the “secondary containment” — exploded.

Toshiaki Sakai, the Tokyo Electric researcher who worked on tsunami risk, also sat on a panel in 2008 that reviewed the damage to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. In that case, Tokyo Electric safely shut down the plant, which survived a quake 2.5 times stronger than it had been designed to handle.

Sakai and the other panelists agreed that despite the successful outcome the way the ground sank and broke underground pipes needed for firefighting equipment had to be considered “a failure to fulfill expected performance”.

Japanese regulators also knew a major earthquake could damage exhaust ducts. A September 2007 review of damage at the same Tokyo Electric nuclear plant by NISA Deputy Director Akira Fukushima showed two spots where the exhaust ducts had broken.

No new standard was put in place requiring vents to be shored up against potential damage, records show.

Masashi Goto, a former nuclear engineer who has turned critical of the industry, said he believed Tokyo Electric and regulators wrongly focused on the parts of the plant that performed well in the 2007 quake, rather than the weaknesses it exposed. “I think they drew the wrong lesson,” Goto said.

The March 11 quake not only damaged the vents but also the gauges in the Fukushima Daiichi complex, which meant that Tokyo Electric was without much of the instrumentation it needed to assess the situation on the ground during the crisis.

The data we’re getting is very sketchy and makes it impossible for us to do the analysis,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert and analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s hard to connect the dots when there are so few dots.”

In fact, Japan’s NSC had concluded in 1992 that it was important for nuclear plant operators to have access to key gauges and instruments even in the kind of crisis that had not happened then. But it left plans on how to implement that policy entirely to the plant operators.

In the Fukushima accident, most meters and gauges were taken out by the loss of power in the early days of the crisis.

That left a pair of workers in a white Prius to race into the plant to get radiation readings with a handheld device in the early days of the crisis, according to Tokyo Electric.

They could have used robots to go in.

Immediately after the tsunami, a French firm with nuclear expertise shipped robots for use in Fukushima, a European nuclear expert said. The robots are built to withstand high radiation.

But Japan, arguably the country with the most advanced robotics industry, stopped them from arriving in Fukishima, saying such help could only come through government channels, said the expert who asked not to be identified so as not to appear critical of Japan in a moment of crisis.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘No one has taken responsibility’: Fukushima victims decry nuclear bosses’ acquittal

jhjmlm.jpgPeople connected to the support group for a criminal lawsuit for the Fukushima nuclear accident are seen outside the Tokyo District Court in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19, 2019. Some are holding signs that say the innocent verdict for all parties is an unjust decision.

September 20, 2019

TOKYO — On Sept. 19, the Japanese judiciary returned a verdict that there was no question of criminality relating to one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.

According to the ruling by the Tokyo District Court, the meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station could not have been foreseen, thereby acquitting three of the company’s former executives from responsibility for the disaster.

The three apologized again after the decision was handed down. But with no question now as to whether they were criminally liable for what happened in March 2011, evacuees who lost their families and communities have voiced their contempt for the ruling.

But what lessons are there from the trial on the nuclear meltdown that started off after a mandatory indictment?

The decision to acquit all three men came at 1:15 p.m. in the 104 court room, the largest at the Tokyo District Court. The former TEPCO executives stood totally still as Presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi read the text of the ruling aloud. As he did, a stir broke in the gallery, with some even shouting out in shock and disbelief.

Among those watching the proceedings unfold were people who lost their families to the nuclear disaster. A 66-year-old resident of Hirono in Fukushima Prefecture tried to repress her emotions while watching the three in court.

On March 11, 2011, when the tsunamis came rushing to the nuclear power station, her parents were living in “Deauville Futaba” in the town of Okuma, a care home about 4.5 kilometers southwest of the reactors. Her father was 92, and her mother was 88.

Evacuation orders were issued, and three days later on March 14 they were rescued by Japan Self-Defense Force troops alongside other members of the care home. They then appear to have ridden a bus for about 10 hours to arrive at Iwaki Koyo High School, based in the city of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture.

With no medical facilities on site and only mats to sleep on in the school’s gym, the evacuees began dying one by one. Her mother passed away around March 15, and her father on the night of March 16. Their daughter only learned of their death about a week later, on March 22.

The daughter was born and raised in Okuma, and her home was just about 3 kilometers from the nuclear plant. She led a close-knit life in the community. Her father worked for the town’s trash disposal facility and other places. He didn’t drink, and was a quiet, honest man. He would look forward every year to the overnight trip he and his brothers in arms in World War II would take to the monument for the fallen in the city of Aizuwakamatsu, also in Fukushima Prefecture.

Her mother was a cheerful person who loved to chat. Even at the care home, she would light up the room where she lived. “Because they were opposites, they made a good couple. They were very kind to me,” their daughter said. For Shichigosan, the annual celebration for girls aged three and seven, and boys aged five, her parents bought her a long-sleeved furisode kimono patterned with vibrant chrysanthemum. She treasures the photo they took on that day.

The daughter’s home was washed away by the tsunamis, and the area is set to host an interim storage facility for radioactive soil generated by decontamination work. The town she and her parents shared their lives in is gone, never to return. Looking for answers as to why her parents had to die, and why the accident that caused such serious damage occurred, she chose to participate in the trial as one of the victims.

At a hearing of the trial in November 2018, she said, “Didn’t TEPCO underestimate the threat from tsunamis? No one has taken responsibility for such huge damage wrought by the disaster. It’s unforgivable.”

She remains unconvinced by the not guilty ruling handed down on Sept. 19 this year. After the trial, she spoke quietly, saying, “The three of them might think ‘We were right,’ but from the victims’ points of view, they got away with the damage they caused. The ruling did not bring answers,” she added, “I can’t think of anything else right now.”

Yoshinobu Ishii, 74, of the village of Kawauchi in Fukushima Prefecture, lost his mother, Ei, then aged 91, in the midst of the evacuations. Also a resident at the Deauville Futaba care home, she died around March 14, 2011 after she too was evacuated to Iwaki Koyo High School.

She had raised Ishii and his five siblings as a single mother. “She brought us up in the midst of hardship. It’s terrible that she died alone, with none of us there to be with her,” he said, his voice heavy with regret.

But Ishii has no interest in the criminal court case. “Looking at it in hindsight, they could have taken measures to prevent the accident, but at the time no one expected such a terrible disaster to unfold.”

He spent Sept. 19 at home. “It’s important for us to make use of the lessons learned by the accident. But putting the responsibility for it on someone, that kind of talk, is pointless. After all, my mother isn’t coming back,” he said.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Eight years after Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese court acquits trio of negligence over meltdown

This verdict certainly raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.
But the verdict, and the implication that the nuclear power operators cannot be blamed for accidents that may occur, is unlikely to help restore shaky public trust in the industry — especially in a country where earthquakes and tsunamis are common.
September 19, 2019
TOKYO —  A Japanese court on Thursday found three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. not guilty of professional negligence over the 2011 tsunami-induced reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Former Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and two former colleagues were accused of failing to take adequate precautions to safeguard the plant against the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck the region on March 11, 2011. The disaster crippled the plant and spread radioactive contamination across a swath of northern Japan. 
The trial at Tokyo’s District Court marked the only criminal proceedings resulting from the nuclear explosions and meltdown, which forced the evacuation of more than 165,000 people. Tens of thousands are still prevented from returning because of lingering contamination.
The court also found the trio not guilty of causing the deaths of 44 elderly patients who were forcibly evacuated from hospitals. 
Government scientists had warned years earlier of a significant risk of an earthquake and tsunami along Japan’s northeastern coast, imperiling the plant. But the three men argued that they could not have predicted such a massive tsunami, an argument ultimately accepted by the court.
“It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures,” Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said in handing down the ruling.
The Fukushima meltdown was the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union, and it caused a reevaluation of the risks of nuclear power globally, especially in Germany. 
Japan’s government shut down the country’s 50 other nuclear reactors after the disaster and imposed new safety rules. But in recent years it has reopened nine, with the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushing to restart more, partly to reduce Japan’s reliance on fossil fuels but also because the nuclear lobby retains considerable influence within the corridors of power, experts say.
Prosecution lawyers, who had sought jail sentences of five years, said they will consider whether to appeal the ruling, arguing that the verdict was influenced by the government’s policy on nuclear energy. 
“The ruling says absolute safety is not a requirement,” prosecution lawyer Shozaburo Ishida said at a news conference. “That’s unthinkable. If you believe that a nuclear accident should never happen, you wouldn’t hand down this sort of ruling.”
There was anger at the verdict outside the courtroom, where former residents of the affected area and activists had gathered. The legal action, brought by former residents, was delayed for years after prosecutors twice refused to bring a case. 
“It’s like the court is on Tepco’s side,” said Noboru Honda, a community leader who lost his home and livelihood after the disaster. He described the victims as “stunned” and “indignant” to hear the accident being described as a natural disaster and not the result of human error by Tepco officials.
“They built the plants and bear no responsibility? What about us? Our pain? We had to move nine or 10 times. Even today, families live apart, and we are living a tough life. Where can we direct our indignation?”
Greenpeace condemned the court’s decision, arguing that Japan’s legal system had failed to stand up for the rights of people affected by the meltdown.
“A guilty verdict would have been a devastating blow not just to Tepco but the Abe government and the Japanese nuclear industry. It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that the court has failed to rule based on the evidence,” Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace, said in a statement. “More than eight years after the start of this catastrophe, Tepco and the government are still avoiding being held to full account for their decades of ignoring the science of nuclear risks.” 
Efforts to restart Japan’s nuclear plants have been dogged by safety concerns, tougher regulations and local opposition around the plants, making it unlikely that the government will achieve its target for nuclear energy to supply 20 to 22 percent of the country’s power by 2030.
Muneyuki Shindo, a professor emeritus at Chiba University and critic of Japan’s nuclear regulatory oversight, said the verdict reflected “mainstream thinking” that nuclear power is here to stay despite the risks and raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.
But he said the fact that so many internal documents were revealed during the trial could make regulators more cautious about approving other restarts in future.
The court heard evidence that Tepco executives were warned between 2002 and 2008 that there was a 20 percent chance that an earthquake greater than 8-magnitude could occur off Japan’s east coast in the next three decades, potentially triggering a tsunami significantly higher than the sea wall protecting the plant. 
But the company failed to invest in measures that might have prevented the catastrophe, such as raising the height of the sea wall and installing additional emergency generators.
The 30-foot-high tsunami that followed the earthquake flooded the plant and knocked out the electric power that cooled the reactors, causing explosions and reactor meltdowns.
Executives, struggling with losses from the shutdown of another nuclear plant after an earthquake in Niigata in 2007, were accused of delaying preventive action for cost reasons, but they argued they had not acted because they had considered the warnings unreliable. 
“We once again offer our sincerest apologies for causing great trouble and worries to many people, including people in Fukushima Prefecture,” Tepco said in a statement after the ruling.
The majority-state-owned company said it was “putting all efforts” into Fukushima’s reconstruction, providing compensation for disaster-related damage and carrying out decommissioning work and decontamination. It added that it was determined to reinforce security measures at nuclear power plants.
But the verdict, and the implication that the nuclear power operators cannot be blamed for accidents that may occur, is unlikely to help restore shaky public trust in the industry — especially in a country where earthquakes and tsunamis are common.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

‘What Corporate Impunity Looks Like’: Court Acquits Tepco Executives for Role in Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Akihiro Yoshidome, an 81-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner from Tokyo, told AFP he was shocked by the court’s decision. “I had braced myself that we might not get a clean victory, but this is too awful,” Yoshidome said. “This shows Japanese courts don’t stand for people’s interest. This can’t be true.”


fukushima_5.jpgIchiro Takekuro, former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), arrives at the Tokyo District Court on September 19, 2019.

September 19, 2019
A Japanese court sparked widespread outrage Thursday by acquitting three former Tepco executives accused of criminal negligence for their failure to take adequate safety measures ahead of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In 2011, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that severely damaged Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, unleashing tons of radioactive material and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Prosecutors said Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro knew of the severe risk posed to the facility by a tsunami as early as 2008 but refused to act.
“The executives were charged with contributing to the deaths of 44 people who had been living in a hospital and nursing home near the plant and died during the hasty evacuation or soon after,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Yuichi Kaido, lawyer and anti-nuclear activist, told the New York Times that the executives “themselves had done the calculations” on the risk of a tsunami “and hid them for three years.”
“The only way to see this is the court has issued an unfair verdict,” Kaido said following the acquittal.
The court’s decision provoked a furious response from the dozens of people who rallied outside Tokyo District Court hoping the executives would be held accountable.
“I couldn’t be more angry,” a man who was forced to evacuate due to the Fukushima disaster told supporters at a rally following the verdict. “We can’t go back to our normal lives. Those who were at the top of the company at the time must be prosecuted!”
Akihiro Yoshidome, an 81-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner from Tokyo, told AFP he was shocked by the court’s decision.
“I had braced myself that we might not get a clean victory, but this is too awful,” Yoshidome said. “This shows Japanese courts don’t stand for people’s interest. This can’t be true.”

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese legal system fails the victims of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster ex-TEPCO executives found not guilty


Tokyo, 19 September – The legal system of Japan has once again failed to stand up for the rights of tens of thousands of citizens impacted by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Greenpeace said today. The Tokyo District Court prosecutors, in the only criminal case brought by thousands of Fukushima and other Japanese citizens,(1) ruled that former CEO Tsunehisa Katsumata, and two former Executive Vice Presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, were not guilty in failing to take action that could have prevented the nuclear accident. This is despite evidence presented to the court that they were aware between 2002-2008 that there was a risk of a 15.7 meter tsunami hitting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

A guilty verdict would have been a devastating blow not just to TEPCO but the Abe government and the Japanese nuclear industry. It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that the court has failed to rule based on the evidence. More than eight years after the start of this catastrophe, TEPCO and the government are still avoiding being held to full account for their decades of ignoring the science of nuclear risks,”  said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany (based in Tokyo currently).

The Japanese nuclear industry continues to refuse to act on warnings of seismic hazards at their vulnerable reactor sites, not least TEPCO at its one remaining nuclear plant in Niigata.(2)

The court proceedings, which began in 2017, resulted from persistent efforts by a citizens panel to hold TEPCO to account. The court heard irrefutable evidence that TEPCO executives deliberately ignored evidence of major earthquake risks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Between 2002 and 2008, predictions of the potential of 15.7 meter tsunami were known to TEPCO. This was ten meters higher than the existing seawall at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO, struggling at the time with major financial losses due to the shutdown of the Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors following the 2008 Niigata earthquake,(3) refused to invest in protective measures, including raising the seawall height and installing additional emergency generators. 

Deliberately ignoring scientific evidence of the multiple safety risks to Japanese nuclear plants was one of the principal reasons for the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It remains the default setting for the industry today. The people of Japan will be confronted with the dangerous legacy of the Fukushima accident for many decades ahead and longer, so today’s ruling, while a setback, is only part of a long road to justice for the citizens of Fukushima and Japan that will help to prevent another nuclear accident,” said Burnie


1 – website of citizen’s support for the court case ;

2 -“Technical issues of Japanese seismic evaluations from the point of global and Japanese standards”, Satoshi Sato, Greenpeace Japan, 2015 and Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Emeritus Professor at Kobe University, seismologist, member of NAIIC (the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission), presentation to Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, April 27, 2015 – see

3 – TEPCO’s Atomic Delusion: Greenpeace Japan, 25 June 2018, see

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Former Tepco executives found not guilty of negligence

As expected the former Tepco executives were found not guilty of criminal negligence in the Fukushima nuclear disaster. That despite all the obvious, as a guilty verdict would harmed Abe’s government nuclear policy. Never mind the victims, Abe’s regime safety comes first.
Tsunehisa Katsumata (left), former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., arrives at the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on Thursday.
Former Tepco executives found not guilty of criminal negligence in Fukushima disaster
September 19, 2019
Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. were acquitted Thursday on charges of failing to prevent the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
At the Tokyo District Court, former Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, along with Ichiro Takekuro, 73, and Sakae Muto, 69, both former vice presidents, had argued they could not have foreseen the massive tsunami that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and caused core meltdowns.
All three pleaded not guilty to the charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, arguing that the data available to them beforehand was not reliable.
The three were indicted 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 a hydrogen explosions at the plant.
Court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors had called for five-year prison terms for the trio, claiming they would have prevented the nuclear disaster if they had fulfilled their responsibility to collect information and implement safety measures.
The three were charged in 2016 by the court-appointed lawyers after an independent panel of citizens mandated indictment.
The panel’s decision came after Tokyo prosecutors twice decided not to charge the men over the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The trial focused on whether the former executives should have foreseen the massive tsunami and prevented the accident, given that it was calculated tsunami waves of up to 15.7 meters could strike the Fukushima plant based on the government’s long-term evaluation of quake risks in 2002. The estimate was reported to Tepco in 2008.
The defense team argued the three could not have envisaged tsunami waves on the scale of those that hit the plant based on the government evaluation — which the former executives considered unreliable — and said installing coastal levees would not have prevented the disaster.
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.
Reactors 1 to 3 subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the building housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units. Around 160,000 people evacuated at one point.
Women hold banners reading “Everyone is not guilty, unjust sentence” in front of Tokyo District Court in Tokyo, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo September 19, 2019
Tokyo court clears former Tepco executives of negligence over Fukushima disaster
September 19, 2019
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Tokyo court cleared on Thursday three former Tokyo Electric Power (9501.T) executives of negligence for the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the only criminal case to arise out of the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Former Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and one-time executives Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro were all found not guilty by the Tokyo District Court.
The trial, which started in June 2017, was conducted by state-appointed lawyers after prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the executives of the company known as Tepco.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, located about 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011, sparking three reactor meltdowns and prompting Japan to shut down its entire fleet of nuclear reactors.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Trial of Tepco executives over Japan’s Fukushima disaster heads to conclusion

kjkmlù.jpgThe Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, is seen in these aerial view images taken in October 2008 (top) and on February 26, 2012, in this combination photo released by Kyodo on March 7, 2012, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami

September 17, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Tokyo court will hand down a verdict later this week on whether three Tokyo Electric Power executives are liable for the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the only criminal case to arise out of the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

The trial, which started in June 2017, was conducted by state-appointed lawyers after prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the executives of the company known as Tepco.

Former Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and onetime executives Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro apologised during the first hearing at the Tokyo District Court for causing trouble to the victims and society, but pleaded not guilty.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, located about 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011, sparking three reactor meltdowns and prompting Japan to shut down its entire fleet of nuclear reactors.

Lawyers acting as prosecutors said the three executives had access to data and studies anticipating the risk to the area from a tsunami exceeding 10 metres (33 feet) in height that could trigger power loss and cause a nuclear disaster.

Lawyers for the defendants, however, said the estimates were not well established, and even experts had divisive views on how the Fukushima reactors would be affected by a tsunami.

The three former Tepco (9501.T) executives are the first individuals to face criminal charges for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but a high bar for proof may prevent a conviction. Prosecutors had declined to bring charges, citing insufficient evidence, but a civilian judiciary panel twice voted to indict the executives, overruling the determination not to go to trial.

“If I were a gambling man I would certainly not bet on a conviction. The citizen-panel initiated trials do not have a good success rate,” Colin Jones, a professor at the Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, told Reuters.

“The charitable view would be that prosecutors don’t take cases unless they know they can win, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the cases they don’t want to take end up being losers,” he said.

Citizen judiciary panels, selected by lottery, are a rarely used feature of Japan’s legal system introduced after World War Two to curb bureaucratic overreach.

Indictments brought by the panels, however, have a low conviction rate. One review of eight of these cases by the Eiko Sogo Law Office found just one, equal to a 17 percent conviction rate, compared with an overall rate of 98 percent in Japan.

Japan’s government estimated in 2016 that the total cost of dismantling Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, decontaminating the affected areas, and paying compensation would amount to around $200 billion (£161.26 billion).

More than 160,000 residents fled nearby towns in the aftermath of the March 2011 tsunami as radiation from the reactor meltdowns contaminated water, food and air.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

“Amid invisible terror, we were witnesses”

From Mari Inoue
I would like to share a poem of Fukushima nuclear disaster by Arata MAEDA, which was published on July 18, 2011 in “Shimbun Noumin”, family farmers’ newspaper in Japan.
“Amid invisible terror, we were witnesses”
by Arata MAEDA*
(Tanslated into English by Andrew E. Barshay)**
Assaulted by an invisible terror
Even now, after four months
We remain driven from our own birthplace, our hometown
At Level 7, with no change in the situation at all
Tens of thousands of livestock, starved to death, all of them
In the deserted villages, only the stink from their corpses
Rises into the air
Across the mountains and rivers of our home country,
Stolen away by something that will not show itself,
The seasons change, as if nothing at all had happened
There where the cuckoo cries, can it be only in our dreams
That we toil and sweat?
There, where we cannot even set foot!
Once it was by our country’s policy that we were driven to Manchuria
By our country’s defeat to commit suicide together
And abandoning our little ones, to escape back home
And now as then, this home of ours
Is smashed to bits as our country’s grand plans collapse in ruin
And this time, it’s a painless death that takes its time in coming
Yet just as on that day, isn’t it collective suicide all over again?
Isn’t it the live experiments of Unit 731 all over again?
Friends, friends, we can’t just stand here grieving and crying
Over these four months, amid invisible terror
What we have seen with our own eyes
Is the true face of terror that says: no matter
For pro it’s sake, the reactors must stay on
All right then! If that’s how it is
We’re ready to take them on, for the sake of our children and theirs
Just like the Kwantung Army before them, these bastards
hid the facts and were the irst to run from danger
And now they put on an innocent face and prattle about safety and reconstruction
No way will we let them take these lives so easily!
Oh, but friends, my friends are dead
*MAEDA Arata: member of Fukushima Farmers’ Alliance, resident of Aizumisato, Fukushima Prefecture
**Andrew E.BARSHAY: Professor, University of California at Berkeley
(The name of “friend” mentioned at the end of the poem is Hisashi Tarukawa who was an organic farmer and a member of the Japan Family Farmers Movement living in Sukagawa, Fukushima. He had devoted himself to growing organic cabbages. On March 23, 2011, he received a fax from the Fukushima local government, which requested him to forbear the shipping of cabbages contaminated by radioactivity. The next day he committed suicide by hanging himself in despair at losing his whole future.)

September 14, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Theater puts human face on nuclear crisis, life in Trump era

nn,tgv.jpgDai Matsuoka of the Japanese butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku performs in “Falling Out.”

August 29, 2019

Six dancers silently toss black garbage bags across the stage as images of the areas around a crippled nuclear power plant scroll over a large screen.

Whenever a survivor of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, begins to speak on screen, the dancers imitate the individual’s gestures to emphasize his or her words.

The filmed interviews with those who experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake and its consequences form the heart of “Falling Out,” a theatrical production featured at the inaugural CrossCurrents Festival, held this spring in Washington, D.C.

The festival was the brainchild of Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, whose goal is to “humanize global politics through performance.”

Other productions showcased at the festival centered on such topics as the global refugee crisis, climate change, and the rise of polarization.

(The productions) engage with issues that are important to people and present them in a very powerful way through some form of narrative,” said Cynthia Schneider, a professor of diplomacy at the university and a co-founder of the Lab. “Each performance provides a deeper context than one might read from news reports.”

Falling Out” is a collaboration between Phantom Limb Co., a New York-based multimedia theatrical production company that works with marionette puppetry, and Dai Matsuoka of the Japanese butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku.

The black bags onstage are symbols of prolonged recovery efforts, representing bags containing soil and other debris contaminated with radioactive materials that remain scattered in Fukushima Prefecture more than eight years after the nuclear accident.

I was surprised at how little had actually happened in the recovery process,” said Jessica Grindstaff, artistic director of Phantom Limb, who spent three months in the Tohoku region in 2018 to interview residents and film footage of the devastated areas.

The spirits of the people that I met with were strong and beautiful … but in terms of infrastructure and logistics, very little had changed since the tsunami. There was no real clear plan on how to rebuild the city.”

The butoh dancers interact with life-size puppets throughout the play to complement the stories of the survivors, representing their loss and life after the disaster.

Matsuoka, one of the performers in “Falling Out,” told The Asahi Shimbun that in butoh performances, the dancer’s body is used as an empty vessel to hold an artistic message.

Grindstaff said “Falling Out” shows that environmental and nuclear issues impact and connect all of humanity.

It doesn’t just belong to Japan,” she said. “These are global issues, and we all need to start thinking about what role we play.”


The Chibok Girls: Our Story,” another production presented at the CrossCurrents Festival, is based on interviews with the survivors of the 2014 Boko Haram kidnappings of schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria.

The play was written by Nigerian playwright Wole Oguntokun, and the second act is comprised of 20 monologues about specific incidents based on the survivors’ accounts, punctuated by drumbeats from a supporting percussionist onstage.

Schneider, who founded the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics in 2012 with theater artist Derek Goldman, said the Lab seeks to engage policymakers, artists and audiences, drawing on its strategic base in the nation’s capital.

We find that artists and policymakers really enjoy this engagement together,” said Schneider, U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands from 1998 to 2001. “The Lab is about bringing those two sides that are usually kept apart together so they can learn from each other and audiences can learn as well.”

After a performance of “The Chibok Girls,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, offered reflections from her tenure, such as the Nigerian government’s long-standing denial of the kidnappings, during a talk-back session with the audience.

People seem really hungry for the kind of substantial, rich, wide-ranging, inter-disciplinary conversations that we have at our events,” Schneider said. “People really want something more than just go to a play and leave or go to a play and hear the playwright talk about how they made that play.”

Falling Out” has sparked conversations in different ways.

Phantom Limb created a Memory Telephone as a chance for audience members to share their thoughts on “love, water, nature and loss,” either in person or over voicemail. The company puts a mix of the voice recordings together and plays it in the theater while audiences wait for a subsequent performance to begin.

I’ve spoken to people about the experience, and they’ve all said that they felt that they were a part of the show, a part of the story,” Grindstaff said. “It’s really easy to read the newspapers and detach from everything you see, but if you can get people to emotionally feel connected, then I think that’s one thing … we can do together to start (taking action).”

Audience members approached her to discuss ways to use the arts to start dialogues on nuclear power, both with the public and international organizations such as the United Nations.

The kinds of conversations that happened and are continuing to happen were very productive,” Grindstaff said. “It actually felt like it was starting bigger conversations that could potentially start to create change.”


The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics has also served as a catalyst for conversations through its own play, “I Pledge Allegiance,” which Schneider says was “very much provoked by what Trump has been doing.”

Devika Ranjan, an Indian-American Georgetown alumna from the class of 2017, developed it at the Lab during her senior year to explore what it meant to be young immigrants and people of color who grew up during the period between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the era of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The presence of racism and imperialism in the city was so tangible,” Ranjan said, looking back on the time period after the 2016 presidential election that she spent in Washington, D.C. “Hate crimes started happening on campus, and people were openly harassed … it was a really difficult way to leave D.C.”

Ranjan and four of her classmates created a series of vignettes drawing from their own personal stories, their ancestors’ experiences of coming to the United States and interviews with young immigrants both on and off the Georgetown campus.

Premiering at the World Theater Congress in Segovia, Spain, in July 2017, “I Pledge Allegiance” has since toured the United States. Whether the cast performed the play domestically or internationally, the members found that audiences could relate to the ideas of exclusion and underrepresentation.

The play is an evolving production, influenced both by the cast’s conversations with audience members after each show, as well as by their own developing personal and societal understandings of the Trump administration.

Ranjan, who spoke in a telephone interview from London, described “I Pledge Allegiance” as a “continual call and response.”

We listen to what the audience has to say, and we offer our own feedback and thoughts and then take those things into account in the next development of (the play),” she said.

In a striking moment of the play, the performers, who have considered their national identities and their connections with the Pledge of Allegiance, invite audience members to stand and participate in the pledge.

Many audience members look to each other for reinforcement when they are suddenly called on to consider what the pledge means to them. While some stand after others stand, others remain seated and put their hand over their heart, according to Ranjan.

This instance of active participation in the play allows audience members to connect with the performers and their perspectives, often provoking conversations during the play’s talk-back sessions.

Falling Out,” “The Chibok Girls” and “I Pledge Allegiance” are all testimonial in nature, built from the voices of the people who experienced the featured events, and place reality front and center for audiences to experience.

None of these stories have definitive conclusions.

The recovery efforts in Japan’s Tohoku region are still ongoing. According to Human Rights Watch, 112 of the Chibok girls were still missing as of April 2019, five years after they were kidnapped. And Americans are grappling with the implications of the Trump administration’s constantly changing immigration policies.

These are not isolated stories but are part of the collective human experience.

The idea of humanizing global politics through the power of performance has remained and if anything been reaffirmed when we see how effective it is,” Schneider said.

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

Fukushima tragedy: The day of black snow

Aerial view of nuclear waste storage area in the mountainous forests of Iitate, Fukushima prefecture in Japan.
August 30, 2019
Toru Anzai is a former resident of Iitate, a small village in Fukushima, Japan, and dearly missed the bamboo shoots that grew in his hometown. During autumn, the bamboo shoots would blanket the mountains that overlooked the residents’ homes in the village. The residents would climb the mountains, gather the plants, and prepare them for dinner. But ever since that tragic day, no one climbed the mountains, and the wild plants vanished from their dinner tables. For Anzai, the bamboo shoots became sad reminders of what used to be.
Anzai remembers the day as the “black snow” day. He heard the explosions on 12 March, 2011. Black smoke rose from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the smell of burning iron pervaded the village. It started to rain. The rain turned into snow. The snow was black.
The black snow filled Anzai with an ominous dread, and soon, his fears became reality.
After the black snow shrouded the village, Anzai described in an interview how he started to feel throbbing pain on his skin. It was almost like being sunburned after sunbathing for too long. Both of his legs darkened then peeled in white patches. The only remedy to the peeling was applying medicinal ointment. 
Soon after, his entire body began to suffer. The headaches came, followed by shoulder pains. Then the hair loss occurred. Three months after the disaster, he left behind his home and evacuated to survive. Unfortunately, the tragedy did not end there.
Three years later, Anzai started having strokes and heart attacks. A stent was placed in his blood vessel; the tube held open his narrowed blood vessel and kept the blood flowing to his heart. With treatment, his pain somewhat subsided, but whenever Anzai visited Iitate, the pain throughout his entire body relapsed. While these symptoms have not been conclusively connected to the radiation exposure, Anzai believed that they were the realities of the black snow day. 
Toru Anzai visting his house in Iitate, Fukushima prefecture, Japan.
Anzai’s temporary housing was very narrow and consisted of a living room and a bedroom. He had moved into this subsidised housing complex eight years ago. He was one of the first of the 126 families. Often, evacuees gathered around the common area and shared fond memories of their hometowns with each other. Whatever solace could be found, the evacuees found it in each other. 
Since allegedly completing the decontamination operation in Iitate, the Japanese government have been urging people to return to their village. In fact, Fukushima prefectural government had ended housing subsidies this past March, and by the end of the month, most people had left the complex. Only around ten families were still looking for a new place to live. 
Absently gazing into the dark, clouded sky, Anzai spoke bitterly. “I was kicked out of my hometown for doing nothing wrong. It was heartbreaking. Now, Iitate is polluted, and some of my neighbours have died. When the government asked me to evacuate last minute, I left. Now, they want me to go back. Back to all of the radioactive contamination. I’m so angry, but I don’t know what to do. We have repeatedly petitioned the government, but they’re not willing to listen. Our government has abandoned us.”
Nuclear waste storage area in Iitate, Fukushima prefecture in Japan. Adopting a return to normal policy, the Japanese government undertook an unprecedented decontamination program for areas of Fukushima contaminated by the triple reactor meltdown in March 2011
Prior to the nuclear incident, there were about 6,300 residents in Iitate. Eight years later, only a little over 300 evacuees have returned at the government’s persistent urging. Most of the returning residents were elderly, aged 60 or older. Even counting the non-natives who had recently relocated to the village, the total figure hovered around only 900 residents. 
Iitate’s old and new residents are exposed to radioactive substances on a daily basis. The Japanese government claimed to have completed the decontamination work, but a full decontamination is impossible due to the village’s terrain. More than 70% of Iitate is forest, and unlike in the farmlands, the removal of contaminants that have fallen among the mountainous forest is nearly impossible. 
Greenpeace nuclear expert Heinz Smital (Germany) and Florian Kasser (Switzerland) talk with Toru Anzai.
Each year, Greenpeace Germany conducts extensive research on Fukushima villages including Iitate. The findings confirm that the radiation exposure in these villages exceeds the established international safety standards. Anzai believes that the Japanese government is behind the forced homecoming of the Iitate residents. 
“The government hopes to publicise good news: the nuclear accident has been dealt with, and the residents have returned home. People who had no choice but to leave are now being pressured to return and put their lives on the line,” lamented Anzai.
The destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, nearly 8 years after the accident.
The Japanese government hopes to release more than one million tonnes of highly radioactive water into the Fukushima coast. If the contaminated water becomes flushed into the ocean, the contamination will only add to the harm already inflicted by the Fukushima accident. Furthermore, the ocean currents will shift the radioactive materials through the surrounding waters including the Pacific Ocean. 
The industrial pollution and toxins have already caused much distress to our oceans. Discharging the Fukushima’s radioactive water will only worsen the situation, and we cannot, and should never, let this happen. 
Sean Lee is the communication lead of Greenpeace Korea. 

September 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Its Tragic Aftermath


The worst nuclear accident in history

August 14, 2019
The three meltdowns and at least four big core explosions at the Fukushima nuclear-power plant’s six American-designed Daiichi reactors in March 2011 still constitute the world’s worst nuclear nightmare so far, surpassing even the Chernobyl #4 reactor’s explosion and meltdown of April 1986. While Chernobyl’s disaster was very quickly contained albeit at the cost of at least 30 human lives (according to Soviet sources)—by first having the stricken reactor completely buried in sand from the air and then immediately sealing it inside a sarcophagus of reinforced concrete, Fukushima’s tragedy has remained an open, festering wound to this day. A U.N. report issued in 2012 stated that at least six Fukushima workers had died since the meltdowns and the tsunami (according to a later report by the Japanese government, only one of these workers had died from radiation exposure).
The Japanese seem to have been reluctant to risk the lives of their more than 6,000 rescue workers pouring daily hundreds of tons of sea water over the fully destroyed reactors as well as the several partly damaged ones. Yet, as of 27 February 2017, the Fukushima prefecture government counted 2,129 “disaster-related deaths” in that prefecture alone. At least 1,368 among those deaths have been listed as directly “related to the nuclear power plant.” Predicted future cancer deaths due to accumulated radiation exposures in the population living near Fukushima are expected to run in the many hundreds, if not the thousands.
Obviously, the Japanese government’s wishful thinking is that the nuclear disaster would just go away if as few people as possible—both at home and especially abroad—knew about its true extent and actual severity. According to Harvey Wasserman (“14,000 Hiroshimas Still Swing in Fukushima’s Air,” The Free Press, October 9, 2013), the situation on the ground was still rather catastrophic more than two years after the disaster, because
“Massive quantities of heavily contaminated water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean, dousing workers along the way. Hundreds of huge, flimsy tanks are leaking untold tons of highly radioactive fluids. At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material, containing potential cesium fallout comparable to 14,000 Hiroshima bombs, are stranded 100 feet in the air.”
Have we been witnessing a major local catastrophe with some perilous global repercussions that are still being concealed from the general public and the world under a veil of total government secrecy—“apparently to avoid causing ‘needless’ social panic,” in the words of Japanese research scientist Haruko Satoh (“Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Need for a Robust Social Contract,” ARI, June 29, 2011)? While the Russians had the excuse of having just one prior warning—namely that of the Three Mile Island’s much smaller nuclear mishap in the U.S. on March 28, 1979—the Japanese appear to have completely ignored Chernobyl’s tragic lessons while operating their Fukushima nuclear-power plant built in a highly vulnerable seismic zone in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean which is prone to massive earthquakes and tsunamis. Pointing out that
“…a vast area of land has been contaminated by radiation,” Haruko Satoh further writes that “…the nature of the on-going nuclear crisis is better understood as a man-made disaster resulting from the systemic failure of Japan’s nuclear energy regime for safety than an inevitable consequence of unforeseen forces of nature.”
In his considered opinion, Japan “has also failed to act speedily to remove and treat the accumulating contaminated soil and water” (ibid.).
As a result, according to The Guardian (“Plummeting Morale at Fukushima Daiichi as Nuclear Cleanup Takes Its Toll,” October 15, 2013), “the world’s most dangerous industrial cleanup” has been threatening not only Japan (long dubbed “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the western Pacific) but the rest of the planet as well. Will the international community finally wake up to this still on-going lethal danger that will persist for many years to come—at least until the afflicted nuclear reactors are finally cooled down? But it is not going to be an easy job since by Tokyo’s own estimates the full decommissioning of the wrecked nuclear site could take up to 40 years.
Could the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be canceled?
The Fukushima catastrophe released in the air many radioactive pollutants such as cesium-134, cesium-137, strontium-90, iodine-131, plutonium-238 and other so-called radionuclides that emit ionized (alpha and beta) particles. With lifespan exceeding hundreds of years, these radioactive pollutants will continue to pose a radiation threat for many decades to come. One eyewitness testifies about the failure of Japan’s decontamination measures (Maxime Polleri, “The Truth About Radiation in Fukushima: Despite Government Claims, Radiation From the 2011 Nuclear Disaster Is Not Gone,” The Diplomat, March 14, 2019):
“…mountains of black plastic bags, filled with contaminated soil or debris, can be seen in many parts of Fukushima…. As such, decontamination does not imply that radiation has vanished; it has simply been moved elsewhere. Yet in rural regions, where many of the bags are currently being disposed, far away from the eyes of urban dwellers, residents are still forced to live near the storage sites. Many rural residents have criticized the actual efficacy of the decontamination projects. For instance, vinyl bags are now starting to break down due to the build-up of gas released by rotten soil. Plants and flowers have also started to grow inside the bags, in the process tearing them apart. With weather factors, residual radioactivity inside the bags will eventually be scattered back into the environment.”
But with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is doubtful that the secretive Japanese government will ever acknowledge this threatening reality. For example, the Japanese have been silent about the current extent of radiological contamination of the seas surrounding Japan—obviously for fear that the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to be held next year may be canceled.
The Official Cover-up
In the past, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the crippled nuclear-power plant’s sole owner and operator,
“has all but admitted (that) Fukushima’s radiation leaks are spiraling out of control. In addition to the leaking water storage units that are unleashing hundred of tons of radioactive water each day, Tepco now says (that) 50% of its contaminated filtration capability has been taken offline due to corrosion. The result is that radiation leaks are escalating out of control and attempted remediation efforts are faltering” (“Fukushima in Free Fall,”, August 27, 2013).
The traditionally close-mouthed Japanese bureaucrats have been far less truthful and much more evasive about the gravity of the Fukushima nuclear crisis than the Russians ever were about their Chernobyl disaster. Only in June 2011—three whole months after the Fukushima nuclear accident—did Tokyo announce that meltdowns had actually occurred in three of the six reactors. “From day one,” the article continues,
“the Fukushima fiasco has been all about denial: Deny the leaks, shut off the radiation sensors, black out the news and fudge the science. Yet more than two years later, the denials are colliding with the laws of physics, and Tepco’s cover stories are increasingly being blown wide open.” (ibid.)
Buried under a virtual tsunami of compensation-seeking lawsuits, Tepco, “once a behemoth that virtually controlled Japan’s energy policy“ (Haruko Satoh, “Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Need for a Robust Social Contract,” ARI, June 29, 2011), has survived to this day as Japan’s biggest energy giant only thanks to the LDP government which seems to be more than willing and eager to bail it out. Despite the attempted cover-up by pro-nuclear Japanese cabinets and the Japanese news media alike, Japan’s own nuclear-safety watchdog—the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA)—gave Fukushima’s nuclear catastrophe the worst possible rating for radiological danger, Level 7 (“major accident”)—the same rating as the Chernobyl disaster—in accordance with the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) standards established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1990.
Showing how more than two years after the disaster the waters of the Pacific Ocean were actually “boiling” off the coast of Fukushima in what it called “a viral photo of the day,” Before It’s News (“’Boiling Sea’ Off Fukushima Viral Photo of the Day,” August 30, 2013) asked rhetorically, “…if this radiation keeps leaking, and there is no way to stop it, will boiling seas spread all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast of the United States? If so, what happens then?”
How was the critically important oceanic animal and plant life affected by the radioactive contamination? Tokyo has denied that due to higher radiation levels it is dangerous to eat any fish caught by Japanese fishermen, but the government has reinstated its earlier fishing ban. Could it be that all of Japan has been poisoned? Moreover, is the whole planet going to be eventually contaminated by Fukushima’s many tons of radioactive material released into the air and sea? Again according to Harvey Wasserman,
“A worst-case cloud would eventually make Japan an uninhabitable waste-land. What it could do to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of us downwind approaches the unthinkable” (“14,000 Hiroshimas Still Swing in Fukushima’s Air,” The Free Press, October 9, 2013).
The Fukushima nuclear accident and its tragic consequences have taken place at the worse possible time for Japan, given its huge national debt (which is more than twice the size of its annual GDP) and protracted economic slump lasting now for almost three decades. Japan’s economic downturn started with the bursting of Tokyo’s stock-market and real-estate “bubbles” in the 1990s and was gravely exacerbated by the global Great Recession of 2008-2009 sparked by America’s own banking and real-estate crises. The international community should have by now pressed the U.N. Security Council to consider and adopt a binding resolution to close down Japan’s hazardous nuclear-energy industry, given the major economic, public health and public safety risks involved.
Is Japan’s nuclear industry doomed?
But Japan’s nuclear power may already be doomed, with its nuclear units being gradually taken “offline” in the wake of the Fukushima fiasco (“After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future?” The New York Times, October 10, 2011). In September 2013, the new Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the shutdown—supposedly for routine maintenance and safety checks—of its last nuclear reactor at Oi that was still working after all the other 53 operating reactors had been closed down for one reason or another. Facing pressure from the Japanese public which has turned decisively against nuclear energy, the previous Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan, had announced in September 2012 a major change in Japan’s energy policy, pledging to shut down all nuclear power for good by the 2030s, thus angering the all-powerful Japanese captains of industry.
In power since December 2012, Shinzo Abe’s LDP cabinet has been warning about the steep economic costs of pulling the plug on Japan’s nuclear energy, mainly in the form of escalating and very expensive energy imports, especially for a country which lacks fossil fuel reserves. Under tremendous pressure from the “iron triangle” community of electricity utilities, heavy industry, ministry bureaucrats and academic experts, known as the “nuclear village,” Prime Minister Shinzo has been trying to restart as many nuclear reactors as the still hostile domestic public opinion would permit him.
Following the Fukushima accident, as each Japanese nuclear reactor entered its scheduled maintenance and refueling outage, it was not returned to operation. Between September 2013 and August 2015, Japan’s entire reactor fleet was suspended from operation, leaving the country with no nuclear generation. But in 2018 Prime Minister Shinzo’s cabinet restarted five nuclear power reactors (U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Japan Has Restarted Five Nuclear Power Reactors in 2018,” November 28, 2018). He is facing a new and unexpected obstacle—the renewed and strengthened Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which had been reformed and given more regulatory powers and administrative independence after Fukushima, especially since this now independent agency has to declare any nuclear plants safe before they could restart. There is also the implacable opposition of many prefectures, towns and villages which, under the law, have a say over the reopening of any local or nearby nuclear plants (“Electricity in Japan: Power Struggle,” The Economist, September 21, 2013). In spite of the determination of the ruling LDP to keep Japan’s ailing nuclear industry alive, its days may already be numbered (Sumiko Takeuchi, “Is There a Future For Nuclear Power in Japan?” Japan Times, July 16, 2019).
Rossen Vassilev Jr. is a journalism senior at the Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

August 22, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment