Charges not expected for TEPCO, Kan over Fukushima nuclear disaster

August 09, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Although 15,000 people have filed criminal complaints, prosecutors will likely not indict any official of the government or Tokyo Electric Power Co. for the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

Investigators could not find sufficient evidence to prove criminal responsibility for Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident, the sources said Aug. 8.

Despite reports to the contrary, including TEPCO’s own studies, prosecutors concluded that the strength of the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and the height of the tsunami that caused the nuclear disaster in 2011 were unforeseeable, they said.

An official decision on the criminal complaints, accepted by prosecutors in Tokyo and Fukushima last August, is expected this month.

Individuals and residents’ groups are demanding that the officials be indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death, referring to the hundreds of people who died during the frantic forced evacuation from areas around the stricken plant, as well as those who have died in evacuation centers.

Others accuse officials of professional negligence resulting in injuries related to radiation exposure from the nuclear plant.

Those named in the criminal complaints include people who held key posts in government and at TEPCO when the nuclear disaster was set in motion on March 11, 2011.

The politicians and government officials include former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Haruki Madarame, former chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, and Banri Kaieda, who was industry minister.

The TEPCO officials named include former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former President Masataka Shimizu.

Prosecutors have requested an interview with Kan to ask about his response to the accident, the sources said. But Kan, who has said his actions prevented the nuclear disaster from spreading, is expected to deny any criminal responsibility.

The quake and tsunami knocked out all power to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, causing the cooling systems to shut down and resulting in the meltdowns of three reactors.

Prosecutors decided they could not recognize injuries resulting from radiation exposure at this stage, the sources said.

However, they concluded that a causal link between the nuclear accident and the deaths of evacuees “cannot be ruled out.”

But to prove that professional negligence was involved, they needed evidence to show that the officials were able to foresee a tsunami of that scale and with the potential to cause a loss of all power sources at the nuclear plant.

They also looked into whether officials took safety precautions that reflected the maximum size of a natural disaster that they believed could strike.

Prosecutors determined that before the accident, few experts had predicted an earthquake or tsunami of that scale, the sources said.

The criminal complaints also accused officials of negligence for the delays in easing pressure within reactor buildings that led to a series of hydrogen explosions.

Prosecutors, however, concluded that high radiation levels and the lack of electricity caused the delay in work to vent the reactor containment vessels.

A senior official with the prosecution authorities said although indictments may not be coming, the government and utility should take the investigation as a serious warning.

“If a similar accident takes place again, they cannot argue that it was triggered by a disaster that was beyond the scale they could foresee,” the official said. “Those concerned should take necessary precautions, rather than admitting that the measures put in place turned out to be insufficient.”

The tsunami was 15.5 meters at the highest point and inundated the reactor buildings that were located 10 meters above sea level.

Prosecutors interviewed government and TEPCO officials, as well as dozens of experts on earthquakes and tsunami, to determine if the utility was well prepared for natural disasters.

They found that before the 2011 disaster, the prevailing view among experts was that the maximum magnitude of an earthquake in that area would be 8.3.

They also concluded that only a few specialists had explicitly warned of the need to take measures to prepare for a catastrophic tsunami.

Some experts had, in fact, repeatedly pointed out the likelihood of a huge tsunami hitting northern Japan.

Even a TEPCO study in 2008 estimated that a tsunami could reach as high as 15.7 meters at the plant, based on expert research.

The Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission noted TEPCO’s earlier estimate and other factors in its report on the causes of the nuclear crisis. It held TEPCO and nuclear industry regulators responsible for “the profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”

The commission’s report stated that the officials had a chance to draw up measures to prepare for such a disaster, but TEPCO and the regulation authorities deliberately put them off.

Prosecutors, however, said experts in 2008 were divided over the research on which TEPCO based its prediction for possible tsunami to hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Officials of the utility told prosecuting authorities that despite that estimate, they decided not to put safeguard measures in place after concluding that a tsunami of that scale was unlikely in reality.

Prosecutors concluded that although TEPCO was insufficiently prepared for a huge tsunami, it would be difficult to pursue the officials’ criminal responsibility and establish a case against them.

According to the Reconstruction Agency, 92,770 people in Fukushima Prefecture were still displaced from their homes as of July 4. The Fukushima prefectural government said 53,277 residents were still living outside the prefecture because of the series of disasters.

TEPCO is still struggling to resolve the crisis at the nuclear plant.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano during a public meeting in May (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano during a public meeting in May (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano during a public meeting in May (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Tsunehisa Katsumata, former chairman of TEPCO, during a news conference in April 2011 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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