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Flawed acquittal of TEPCO execs demands high court review

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Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19.
October 7, 2019
Lawyers appealed a court ruling that acquitted three former top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) of criminal responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The lawyers were appointed to serve as prosecutors in the case after the Tokyo prosecutors’ decision against indicting the former executives was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that they must stand trial.
There has been criticism about appealing court rulings that have found the defendants not guilty, which forces people acquitted of criminal charges to stand trial again.
But many flaws in the Tokyo District Court’s ruling justifies the move made by the lawyers to seek a high court judgment.
For example, the district court asserted that the only way the nuclear accident that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 could have been prevented was if plant operations had been halted before the quake.
But the lawyers referred to measures that could have prevented the disaster if they had been taken, including the construction of a seawall, work to protect key structures from flooding and relocating the plant’s emergency power source to high ground.
Witnesses were questioned to determine the feasibility of these measures.
But the ruling dismissed the argument that these measures, if they had been taken, could have prevented the disaster without examining them meticulously.
As a result, the focus of the ruling on the case against the three former TEPCO executives was on whether they had the obligation to take the drastic step of shutting down the reactors before the Great East Japan Earthquake.
It is obviously an extremely tough decision to make given that such a step will inevitably seriously affect people’s lives.
It is no wonder that many victims of the Fukushima meltdowns and multiple academic experts have raised doubts about the district court decision. Critics say the court changed the focus of the case without good reason.
The court’s judgment on some core nuclear safety issues is also questionable.
The court rejected the credibility of the central government’s long-term earthquake forecast published in 2002.
The forecast said a gigantic earthquake could occur anywhere in wide sea areas stretching from off the Sanriku part of the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, to off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture within 30 years at a probability of around 20 percent.
In dismissing the importance of this prognostication, the ruling pointed to dissenting opinions as well as the fact that neither electric utilities nor the nuclear safety regulators used this projection in assessing nuclear safety measures.
By doing so, the ruling effectively defended the government and the electric power industry against the accusations of omission and negligence, and on those grounds rejected the quake projection made by experts through discussions.
The government and the industry have been accused of failing to make sufficient efforts to secure the safety of nuclear power plants as they have worked in close cooperation to promote atomic energy.
Moreover, the ruling said the law at the time of the accident did not require utilities to “ensure absolute safety” of nuclear plants.
But it was widely assumed that all possible measures were taken to ensure that no severe nuclear accident would take place.
This is not about dealing with such farfetched risks as a huge asteroid hitting the Earth.
In fact, the long-term earthquake projection prompted TEPCO employees in charge of nuclear plant operations to consider possible measures to protect facilities against large tsunami and report them to the company’s management team.
It also led Japan Atomic Power Co., which, like TEPCO, operates a nuclear plant on the Pacific coast, to improve facilities at the plant.
It is highly doubtful whether the district court properly assessed the implications of these facts.
To be fair, it is by no means easy to hold individuals criminally liable for an accident caused by a complicated web of factors related to both organizations and people.
Few doubted the difficulty of proving the guilt of the accused. But the problem is the deeply flawed process and argument leading to the court’s ruling.
Still, the trial has offered valuable insights into the accident as many important facts that were not mentioned in the probes by the government or the Diet have come to light.
The district court was expected to assess the implications of all these facts carefully and explain how they were relevant to the accident and to what extent in language ordinary citizens can clearly understand. But the ruling failed to meet this expectation.
This is why the ruling needs to be reviewed by the high court.
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October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Appeal filed against acquittal of former TEPCO execs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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’

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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