About 20 criminal complaints and accusations have been submitted in connection with last year's accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Prosecutors, however, have taken action on precisely zero of the cases.
In fact, they have not formally accepted a single complaint or accusation to determine if a criminal investigation is warranted.
Prosecutors have cited the difficulties in obtaining evidence for indictments. But even a former prosecutor has expressed surprise that no criminal investigation has been opened into the worst nuclear accident in Japan’s history.
In one high-profile case, 1,324 residents of Fukushima Prefecture who were affected by the nuclear disaster submitted a criminal complaint and accusation with the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office on June 11, a year and three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. They accused Tsunehisa Katsumata, who was chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. when the accident occurred, Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, and 31 others of professional negligence resulting in bodily injury and death.
As of July 12, prosecutors had not formally accepted the criminal complaint and accusation.
"When we submitted the documents, we received a note saying they would hold onto the documents," a member of the group said.
Criminal complaints are submitted by people who say they are direct victims of a crime, while criminal accusations are filed by third parties. In many of the 20 or so complaints and accusations concerning the nuclear accident, prosecutors have chosen to do nothing. And in the few times they have actually responded, they have declined to take the matter further.
In January, Fumio Nagata of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, tried to file a criminal accusation with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office against Katsumata and two others on pollution charges.
Under pollution laws, charges can be filed over the release of materials that may endanger people's lives and bodies through business activities that failed to take proper professional precautions.
Nagata, who has long been involved in the anti-nuclear movement, mailed the accusation on Jan. 24.
He received a reply from prosecutors dated Jan. 27: “This law was enacted with the objective of strengthening regulations against emitting pollutants. Looking at a number of past judgments by the Supreme Court, no crime was found if toxic materials were accidentally emitted. We are returning the document you sent to us because the relevant agencies are looking into the cause of the matter."
Although Nagata subsequently phoned the Tokyo District Public Prosectors Office, he said he got nowhere.
Masaru Wakasa, a lawyer who once worked as a prosecutor in the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, was puzzled by the response.
"The fact that precedents exist with the Supreme Court means that those were points of contention," Wakasa said. "Because there is always the possibility that precedents can change, that in itself is no reason not to accept the accusation. Whether any relevant agency is looking into the cause is also not directly related to whether the accusation should be accepted or not."
According to Wakasa, very strict conditions are in place for refusing to accept a criminal complaint or accusation, including cases in which the time, date and location of a suspected crime are not specified, or if it is not clear who did what to whom.
Prosecutors can also refuse to accept criminal complaints or accusations that are considered irrational.
However, Wakasa said prosecutors normally accept all other complaints or accusations even if they feel it would be difficult to gain an indictment. Once the complaint or accusation is accepted, prosecutors can then decide on whether a crime was actually committed and whether there is enough evidence for an indictment.
Criminal Procedure Law clearly states the public has the right to submit criminal complaints and accusations.
Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer for the group that submitted the complaint and accusation on June 11, said: "It is only natural that the document be accepted. The focus is whether prosecutors will conduct a thorough investigation or not."
However, prosecutors seem unwilling to even take the first step toward opening an investigation.
"It is legally difficult to indict anyone at TEPCO or in the central government on suspicion of polluting the environment or professional negligence resulting in bodily injury and death,” a source close to prosecutors explained. “For example, in the latter charge, it is unclear to what extent radiation exposure has affected human health. Even if the documents were accepted and the decision was made not to indict, there is the option of taking the matter up with the prosecution inquest panel."
Kawai said if prosecutors decided not to indict, the group would file an application with the inquest panel, which has the power to force prosecutors to indict suspects and conduct investigations that satisfy members of the public who are on the panel.
"Questioning suspects would have a huge social impact,” a source with the prosecutors office said. “We will decide whether to accept the complaints and accusations after referring to the reports compiled by the investigative commissions set up by the central government and the Diet."
The Fukushima group is also considering filing a criminal accusation of professional negligence in connection with one of the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plant in the early stages of the crisis. Under that charge, there would be no need to determine the effects on human health.
"Unless officials of the central government or TEPCO are made to take responsibility as individuals, there will be no stopping the terrible mistakes that have been made in nuclear energy policy," Kawai said.
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