By Jonathan Soble, with additional reporting by Makiko Inoue
29 February 2016
TOKYO (The New York Times) – Japanese prosecutors indicted three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, on Monday, charging them with criminal negligence for their role in reactor meltdowns after an earthquake and tsunami five years ago.
The indictments were the first stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster, which spread radiation across a wide area in northeastern Japan and led to evacuations that left more than 100,000 homeless.
The sudden and often chaotic evacuations caused the deaths of 44 people, prosecutors said in a statement. They did not identify the victims, but most, if not all, are believed to have been older Fukushima residents who were in hospitals and nursing homes, or bedridden at home, when the disaster occurred.
One died in a hospital because doctors and nurses were forced to flee, leaving the person “without treatment or care,” the prosecutors said. Others died in transit or in makeshift temporary shelters. (No one was killed by radiation, because levels outside the plant itself were too low.)
“This is a relief for the tens of thousands of victims who are still dealing with hardships and anguish,” said Ruiko Muto, an opponent of nuclear power who leads a citizens’ group that has been pursuing charges against Tokyo Electric and against government officials. “It’s wrong that no one has taken responsibility.”
The three executives — Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75; Sakae Muto, 65 (no relation to Ruiko Muto); and Ichiro Takekuro, 69 — are accused of failing to take measures that would have protected the nuclear plant from the damage the tsunami wrought. […]
Prosecutors initially declined to bring charges in the case. They said there was not enough evidence that failings by Tepco or its leaders had amounted to criminal wrongdoing. But their decision angered Fukushima residents and antinuclear campaigners, who formed the organization led by Ms. Muto, the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, to demand a review. […]
“They know that measures were necessary, but for economic reasons they did nothing,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and politician who supports the Fukushima plaintiffs’ group.
Tepco declined to comment, saying it could not discuss a pending trial. [more]