Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Trial Ends With Acquittals of 3 Executives via The New York Times

By Ben Dooley, Eimi Yamamitsu and Makiko Inoue

TOKYO — A Japanese court on Thursday acquitted three former Tokyo Electric Power Company executives who had been accused of criminal negligence for their roles in the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The verdict makes it likely that no one will be held criminally responsible for one of the worst nuclear accidents in history — a catastrophe that led to a global backlash against nuclear power and created environmental damage that will haunt Japan for generations to come.

Although the ruling has likely cleared the company, known as Tepco, of criminal liability for the incident, it still faces civil litigation and the burden of mitigating the ongoing harm caused by the meltdown of three reactors at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima after a huge earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The three executives — Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro — were the only people charged over the handling of the disaster, which forced more than 160,000 people in northeastern Japan to evacuate their homes to escape nuclear fallout that left areas surrounding the plant uninhabitable.

Thousands were killed by the quake and the tsunami. But another 44 people died in the chaos surrounding the evacuation of the area around the nuclear plant, prosecutors said. They attributed the deaths to negligence on the part of the executives, who they said had failed to properly plan for the possibility of a nuclear accident in spite of prior warnings. None of the deaths were attributed to radiation-related illnesses.

The three executives argued that they could not have anticipated the damage caused by the unprecedented disaster, and the court appeared to agree on Thursday.


At trial, prosecutors said that, three years before the accident, the executives had been presented with warnings that the plant could be hit by a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters (around 52 feet). Had they listened, the prosecutors said, they would have been able to take steps to prevent the disaster, in which waves more than 30 feet high, caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake, overwhelmed the plant’s protective sea wall.

But the defense argued that expert opinion on the issue had been split, that the reports had been unreliable and that the men could not have realistically anticipated that the plant would be struck by such a giant wave.


But former area residents and antinuclear campaigners worked together to appeal the decisions, leveraging an area of Japanese law that allows panels of private citizens to review prosecutors’ decisions and order them reversed.

The panels, which consist of 11 randomly selected civilians, were put into place after World War II to put a check on the authority of the country’s prosecutors, who have broad discretion in deciding whether or not to bring a case to trial.

After two such civilian committees determined that the Tepco executives should stand trial, the case was automatically handed over to a court for trial.

Conviction rates in Japan are close to 100 percent. But the circumstances surrounding the Tepco indictment are unusual.

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