Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) were indicted Monday for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which was struck by massive tsunami waves five years ago.
The indictment, mandated by an independent panel of citizens after prosecutors decided against laying charges, seeks to answer in court the question of whether the key TEPCO figures should be held criminally responsible over the nuclear disaster.
At the six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast, tsunamis triggered by the massive earthquake on March 11, 2011, flooded power supply facilities and crippled reactor cooling systems. The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the No. 1, 3 and 4 units.
The three, who were indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, chairman of TEPCO at the time, and two former vice presidents—Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.
Monday’s indictment blames the three for injuries to 13 people, including Self-Defense Forces members, from hydrogen explosions at the plant, as well as the deaths of 44 patients forced to evacuate from hospital.
The utility’s public relations office offered a renewed apology over the accident in a statement Monday, but declined to comment on the indictment because it concerns a criminal case.
All the former executives, who were charged without being taken into custody, are likely to plead not guilty, sources familiar with the case said.
The trial is expected to be long, and is unlikely to start by the end of the year, as preparations to compile evidence and points of issue apparently require a considerable amount of time, the sources said.
The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution last July decided to mandate that the three be charged with professional negligence for their handling of the disaster, overturning a decision by prosecutors in September 2013 not to indict the three.
The prosecutors determined that it was hard for them to predict the major tsunamis.
The committee, however, said the former executives received a report by June 2009 that the plant could be hit by tsunami as high as 15.7 meters and that they “failed to take pre-emptive measures knowing the risk of a major tsunami.”
A group of Fukushima citizens and other people filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against dozens of government and TEPCO officials over their responsibility in connection with what became one of the world’s worst nuclear crises.
But as prosecutors decided not to file charges, including against then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the group narrowed its focus and asked the committee to examine whether the prosecutors’ decision was appropriate.