Ex-Tepco executives deserve indictment over Fukushima nuclear crisis, says Tokyo panel

Panel of Japanese citizens decides three former Tepco officials, including ex-chairman, should face formal accusations over 2011 nuclear disaster following tsunami

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 12:32am

An independent legal panel yesterday called for criminal charges to be brought against three former executives of the Fukushima nuclear plant operator for their role in the 2011 disaster.

The ruling - issued by a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens - could ultimately pave the way for an indictment, after prosecutors announced last year that they would not pursue a criminal case.

But about 5,700 people, including Fukushima residents affected by the nuclear crisis, were dissatisfied with the prosecutors' decision and asked the inquest panel to review the case last October.

The new ruling means that prosecutors must reconsider their decision.

Another refusal to indict may end the possibility of charges for the former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) managers.

But if the panel challenges prosecutors' decision a second time, a group of court-appointed lawyers would then be compelled to lay formal charges under Japanese law.

The three ex-managers are former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, ex-vice-president Sakae Muto and his predecessor, Ichiro Takekuro.

Activists and residents who lived near the crippled plant had called on authorities to indict about three dozen company officials over their failure to take proper measures to protect the site against the tsunami, which sparked an atomic disaster.

Prosecutors had defended their decision not to indict by saying management could not have predicted the size of the huge tsunami, which was triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

The waves crashed into Fukushima and swamped cooling systems, sparking meltdowns that spewed radiation over a wide area.

"We welcome the decision by the judicial panel - it's obvious that someone has to take responsibility for the disaster," said Miwa Chiwaki, one of thousands of plaintiffs who demanded charges be laid.

A parliamentary report has said that Fukushima was a manmade disaster caused by Japan's culture of "reflexive obedience", but no-one has been punished criminally.

Additional reporting by Kyodo