The Associated Press (Mari Yamaguchi)
A prosecutor told the court that the three defendants had access to data and studies that anticipated the risk of a tsunami exceeding 10 meters (30 feet) that could trigger a loss of power and severe accidents.
“They continued running the reactors without taking any measures whatsoever,” the prosecutor said. “If they had fulfilled their safety responsibilities, the accident would never have occurred.”
The lawyers in a Japanese trial are generally not identified by name.
The prosecution began presenting more than 230 pieces of evidence including emails between safety officials and the two vice presidents that suggested increasing concern and a need to take additional tsunami measures at the Fukushima plant.
TEPCO was already conducting a tsunami safety review following a 2007 earthquake in northern Japan, and the three former executives routinely participated in it, according to the prosecutors. In March 2008, a TEPCO subsidiary projected that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters (47 feet) could hit Fukushima based on historical data, prompting a consideration of the construction of seawalls, the prosecution said.
In an email that year, a TEPCO construction official said the updated tsunami estimate made Fukushima’s safety measures insufficient, and they needed a “logical” excuse to keep the plant running. At a meeting later that year among TEPCO construction officials, a tsunami exceeding 10 meters (30 feet) was described as “disastrous.” Muto later instructed them to take time for a further examination by experts, in effect delaying the plan, the prosecution said.
The three men are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury, including the deaths of more than 40 senior citizens during and after evacuation from a hospital, and injuries to 13 people including TEPCO employees during emergency work.
Government and parliamentary investigative reports have said that TEPCO’s lack of a safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimation of tsunami risks, led to the disaster. They also said TEPCO ignored tsunami protection measures amid collusion with regulators and lax oversight.
TEPCO has said it could have been more proactive with safety measures, but that a tsunami of the magnitude that crippled the plant could not have been anticipated.
The criminal trial for the TEPCO executives was prompted by an appeal by more than 5,700 people from Fukushima and other parts of Japan, urging prosecutors to investigate and send the utility executives to court to determine who was responsible for the disaster.