Japan court acquits energy bosses over Fukushima disaster

This combination of pictures taken and created on September 19, 2019 shows three former executives from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata (R), former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro (C) and Sakae Muto (L), arriving at the Tokyo District Court to attend their trial. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2019

Japan court acquits energy bosses over Fukushima disaster

  • The three former executives were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury for failing to act on information about the risks from a major tsunami
  • No one was killed in the nuclear meltdown, but the tsunami left 18,500 dead or missing

TOKYO: A Japanese court on Thursday cleared three energy firm bosses of professional negligence in the only criminal trial stemming from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
The three men were senior officials at the TEPCO firm operating the Fukushima Daiichi plant and had faced up to five years in prison if convicted.
“All defendants are not guilty,” the presiding judge said, ruling that the executives could not have predicted the scale of the tsunami that overwhelmed the plant and triggered the accident.
The decision is likely to be appealed, extending the legal wrangling over responsibility for the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, more than eight years after the disaster.
Outside the courtroom, dozens of people staged a rally, including some who had traveled from the Fukushima region to hear the verdict.
“It is absolutely an unjust ruling. We absolutely cannot accept this,” one woman said angrily, addressing the crowd.
“We will appeal this and continue our fight,” shouted a man nearby.
TEPCO declined to comment on the verdict, repeating its “sincere apologies for the great inconvenience and concern” caused by the disaster.
The three former executives were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury for failing to act on information about the risks from a major tsunami, but they argued the data available to them at the time was unreliable.
Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said the verdict turned on the “predictability” of the massive tsunami that swamped the nuclear plant in March 2011 after a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake.
He pointed out there had been no proposal from the government’s nuclear watchdog “that TEPCO should suspend operations until (safety) measures are taken.”

No one was killed in the nuclear meltdown, but the tsunami left 18,500 dead or missing.
The ex-TEPCO executives faced trial in relation to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalized patients who died after having to be evacuated following the nuclear disaster.
Prosecutors twice declined to proceed with the case, citing insufficient evidence and a slim chance of conviction, but were forced to after a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled that the trio should face trial.
All three defendants — former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 69, and Ichiro Takekuro, 73 — had pleaded not guilty.
The prosecutors said the men were present at meetings where experts warned of the anticipated height of a tsunami off the Fukushima coast and should have taken better safety measures.
They argued the executives were presented data warning a tsunami exceeding 10 meters (33 feet) could trigger power loss and a major disaster at the plant.
And a TEPCO internal study, based on a government report, concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 meters could hit after a magnitude-8.3 quake.
In the event, when a 9.0-magnitude quake hit offshore on March 11, 2011, waves as high as 14 meters swamped the reactors’ cooling systems.
The resulting meltdown forced massive evacuations and left parts of the surrounding area uninhabitable — in some cases possibly forever.

The three defendants have apologized, but argued they could not have foreseen the disaster based on the available evidence and that they thought officials in the firm responsible for nuclear safety had taken appropriate measures.
“It is difficult to deal with issues that are uncertain and obscure,” Takekuro said during the trial.
Separately from the criminal case, dozens of civil lawsuits have been filed against the government and TEPCO.
Some district courts have granted damages to local residents, ordering TEPCO and the government to pay.
Before the verdict, protesters outside the court said the trial was a chance to hold someone accountable for the disaster.
“If we don’t hear guilty verdicts, our years-long efforts to bring this to court will not have been rewarded,” said Saki Okawara, 67, who came from Miharu in the Fukushima region to hear the verdict.
“And Japanese society’s culture of no one taking responsibility will continue.”


Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Updated 39 min 43 sec ago

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.