Three TEPCO Executives Could Be Prosecuted

TEPCO Execs Could Be Prosecuted

A July 31 judgment by the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution that three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) merit indictment over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster not only prods prosecutors to review their decision not to indict for their criminal responsibility, but is also a sharp rebuke to TEPCO and regulatory authorities for neglecting safety.

The committee composed of regular citizens voted in favor of indicting former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro. The recommendation made clear the perception gap between experts and ordinary citizens about nuclear safety as well as the double standards vis-a-vis prosecution concerning decisions to indict nor not.

''This kind of judgment was possible,'' a senior prosecutor said.

The citizens' committee strongly denounced TEPCO executives at the time of the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and requested prosecutors to reinvestigate the case. The committee pointed out that electric power companies and regulatory authorities probably shared the view that nuclear power plants were safe. It also stressed that the former TEPCO executives cannot shirk their responsibility for the Fukushima disaster simply because they had held fast to the nuclear safety myth.

What divided opinions between prosecutors and the independent judicial panel was the issue of preparedness for an accident caused by an unpredictable killer tsunami. There is an enormous perception gap between citizens who had sought every preparatory step imaginable, and prosecution and courts with conventional thinking.

The prosecution must substantiate how foreseeable a disaster is if looking to build a case for criminal negligence. It is not enough simply to recognize an abstract danger, but prosecutors are required to prove that the accused could specifically predict the disaster. The former TEPCO executives had maintained that they could not foresee the nuclear disaster because of an unanticipated huge tsunami.

In the course of the prosecution's investigations, the focal point was on how to overturn TEPCO's argument after revealing the state of research on earthquakes and tsunami. They focused on two findings, the first a governmental earthquake study task force announcement in 2002 that tsunami triggered by an earthquake may occur off Fukushima Prefecture; and second, a 2008 TEPCO forecast shows that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could strike in a worst case scenario.

Prosecutors determined that researchers for the 2002 study could not imagine a natural disaster comparable to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and the 2008 forecast outlined the most severe scenario, such that TEPCO could not predict the huge tsunami that devastated the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

On the other hand, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said damage from a nuclear plant accident would be heavy and effects from such an accident would be long-lasting. Nuclear power plant operator executives are required to pay extremely careful attention and shoulder personal responsibility for the safety of nuclear power plants, the committee said.

The panel went on to criticize TEPCO for failing to predict a huge tsunami as one requiring preparatory steps and neglecting to follow through on the 2008 forecast. TEPCO could have avoided damage or at least minimized it had the utility installed power generators on higher ground, updated the emergency manual and conducted drills, the panel said.

Prosecutors will question Katsumata and other former TEPCO executives. But a senior prosecutor says the case has been investigated in accordance with standards permitted under previous trials. The prosecution inquest panel, however, is demanding more than that, the prosecution source said, adding the planned reinvestigation would be tough. 



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