Tokyo util­ity heads plead in­no­cent

3 for­mer ex­ec­u­tives on trial in 2011 Fukushima dis­as­ter

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - MARI YA­M­AGUCHI

TOKYO — Three for­mer ex­ec­u­tives of Tokyo Elec­tric Power Co. apol­o­gized in court Fri­day for the 2011 Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter, but pleaded in­no­cent to charges of pro­fes­sional neg­li­gence.

Tsune­hisa Kat­sumata, the 77-year-old ex-chair­man of the util­ity, and two for­mer vice pres­i­dents said they don’t think they bear crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause they couldn’t pre­dict the enor­mous tsunami that flooded the plant.

That is­sue is ex­pected to be cen­tral to their trial, the first to con­sider whether of­fi­cials of the util­ity can be held crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble. The elec­tric com­pany it­self has not been charged. The trial at Tokyo Dis­trict Court is likely to take more than a year.

A pros­e­cu­tor told the court that the three de­fen­dants had ac­cess to data and stud­ies that an­tic­i­pated the risk of a tsunami ex­ceed­ing 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.

Three re­ac­tors had melt­downs, and ra­di­a­tion spread into sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties after the nu­clear plant north of Tokyo was hit by a pow­er­ful earth­quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents were forced to evac­u­ate, and some ar­eas re­main un­in­hab­it­able more than six years later.

“I apol­o­gize for the tremen­dous trou­ble to the res­i­dents in the area and around the coun­try be­cause of the se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent that caused the re­lease of ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als,” Kat­sumata said as he bowed slightly.

He and his co-de­fen­dants, Sakae Muto, 67, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, said they couldn’t fore­see the dis­as­ter.

“When I re­call that time, I still think it was im­pos­si­ble to an­tic­i­pate an ac­ci­dent like that,” Muto said. “I be­lieve I have no crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity over the ac­ci­dent.”

Prose­cu­tors con­sid­ered the case twice and dropped it both times, but a cit­i­zens’ ju­di­cial panel over­rode their de­ci­sion and in­dicted the for­mer ex­ec­u­tives. They are be­ing tried by a team of lawyers ap­pointed by the court.

The for­mer of­fi­cials are ac­cused of not tak­ing suf­fi­cient pre­ven­tive mea­sures de­spite be­ing aware of the risk of a ma­jor tsunami at least two years be­fore it hap­pened.

De­fense at­tor­neys said in court that the tsunami pro­jec­tion was not well-es­tab­lished and di­vided ex­perts. They said the ac­tual dam­age was much larger than pro­jected, so if the util­ity had taken steps based on the pro­jec­tion, it would not have pre­vented the dis­as­ter.

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.

The elec­tric com­pany was al­ready con­duct­ing a tsunami safety re­view after a 2007 earth­quake in north­ern Japan, and the three for­mer ex­ec­u­tives rou­tinely par­tic­i­pated in it, ac­cord­ing to the prose­cu­tors. In March 2008, a util­ity sub­sidiary pro­jected that a tsunami as high as 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 util­ity 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 com­pany con­struc­tion of­fi­cials, a tsunami ex­ceed­ing 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 elec­tric com­pany em­ploy­ees dur­ing emer­gency work.

Gov­ern­ment and par­lia­men­tary in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports have said that the util­ity’s lack of a safety cul­ture and weak risk man­age­ment, in­clud­ing an un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of tsunami risks, led to the dis­as­ter. They also said the com­pany ig­nored tsunami pro­tec­tion mea­sures amid col­lu­sion with reg­u­la­tors and lax over­sight.

The Ja­panese elec­tric com­pany 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 util­ity 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.

AP/KOJI HARADA

Tsune­hisa Kat­sumata (cen­ter), for­mer chair­man of Tokyo Elec­tric Power Co., ac­com­pa­nied by his lawyers, ar­rives Fri­day at Tokyo Dis­trict Court for the start of a trial on charges of neg­li­gence in the 2011 Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter.

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