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Reflections on the TEPCO Trial: Prosecution and Acquittal after Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown via The Asia-Pacific Journal JapanFocus

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.

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