Three former Japanese utility executives were formally charged for alleged negligence in the Fukushima nuclear disaster Monday, becoming the first ones from the company to face a criminal court.
A group of five court-appointed lawyers on Monday indicted Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tokyo Electric power Co. at the time of the crisis, along with two other TEPCO executives, according to the lawyers’ offices. The three men, charged with professional negligence, were not arrested.
The indictment follows a decision by an 11-member judicial committee in July to send the three men to a criminal court after prosecutors had dropped the case twice, saying they could not obtain sufficient evidence to establish criminal case against them.
Proving criminal responsibility for failing to prevent the Fukushima meltdowns may be difficult, but many people including the residents affected by the disaster say they hope that any trial would reveal more facts about the disaster and TEPCO’s role that the utility has not disclosed.
Three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami suffered meltdowns, triggering massive radiation leaks that forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
The indictment document said Katsumata, 75, and Sakae Muto, 65 and Ichiro Takekuro, 69, who were vice president and technical adviser, respectively — failed to foresee and take precautionary steps for the tsunami, resulting in the deaths of 44 hospitalized elderly people during evacuation period and injuries to 13 defense soldiers responding to the emergency, Kyodo News reported.
The judicial committee said in July that the three men neglected to take sufficient measures even though they were aware of the risk of a tsunami to the Fukushima plant. It said they should be charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury during the accident and its aftermath.
In Japan, a court-appointed judicial committee has the final say about a criminal complaint filed to a prosecutors’ office and then dropped. The system was introduced in 1948 to give public a voice in criminal investigations.
Government and parliamentary investigative reports have said TEPCO’s lack of a safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimate of tsunami threats, led to the disaster. They said TEPCO ignored tsunami safety measures amid collusion with then-regulators and lax oversight.
TEPCO has said it could have been more proactive on safety measures, but that a tsunami of the magnitude that crippled the plant could not have been anticipated.
While struggling with a cleanup at the wrecked Fukushima plant that will take decades, TEPCO is hoping to restart two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in northern Japan.
The disaster resulted in Japan taking all of its nuclear power reactors offline for checks. Of the 43 workable reactors in Japan, three have been put back online since last year, while the others are still offline for repairs or safety checks.