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.”


12 killed, 400 injured as strong earthquake hits Turkey and Greece

Updated 30 October 2020

12 killed, 400 injured as strong earthquake hits Turkey and Greece

  • Quake of up to 7.0 magnitude hits Turkey, Greek islands
  • Tidal waves send flood of debris inland

ISTANBUL: Twelve people were killed and hundreds injured in Turkey after a strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea on Friday, bringing buildings crashing down and setting off tidal waves which slammed into coastal areas and nearby Greek islands.
People ran onto streets in panic in the coastal city of Izmir, witnesses said, after the quake struck with a magnitude of up to 7.0 at around 1150 GMT. Some neighborhoods were deluged with surging seawater which swept a flood of debris inland and left fish stranded as it receded.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said six people died, one due to drowning, while 202 people were injured.
There were various reports of collapsed buildings with people stuck in the rubble in some of districts of Izmir, one of Turkey’s main tourist regions, and partial damage to property in other provinces, Turkish officials said.
Izmir mayor Tunc Soyer said around 20 buildings came down in the province. Izmir’s governor said 70 people had been rescued from under the rubble.
Ilke Cide, a doctoral student who was in Izmir’s Guzelbahce region during the earthquake, said he went inland after waters rose after the earthquake.
“I am very used to earthquakes... so I didn’t take it very seriously at first but this time it was really scary,” he said, adding the earthquake had lasted for at least 25-30 seconds.
Crisscrossed by major fault lines, Turkey is among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul. In 2011, a quake in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
Ismail Yetiskin, mayor of Izmir’s Seferihisar, said sea levels rose as a result of the quake. “There seems to be a small tsunami,” he told broadcaster NTV.
Footage on social media showed debris including refrigerators, chairs and tables floating through streets on the deluge. TRT Haber showed cars in Izmir’s Seferihisar district had been dragged by the water and piled on top of each other.
Idil Gungor, who runs a hotel in Izmir’s Seferihisar district, told broadcaster NTV that people were cleaning the debris after the floodwaters receded. She said fish had washed up on the garden of the hotel, around 50 meters from the shore.
Residents of the Greek island of Samos, which has a population of about 45,000, were urged to stay away from coastal areas, Eftyhmios Lekkas, head of Greece’s organization for anti-seismic planning, told Greece’s Skai TV.
“It was a very big earthquake, it’s difficult to have a bigger one,” said Lekkas.
High tidal wave warnings were in place in Samos, where eight people were lightly injured, according to a Greek official.
“We have never experienced anything like it,” said George Dionysiou, the local vice-mayor. “People are panicking.” A Greek police spokesman said there was damage to some old buildings on the island.
The foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece — which have been caught up in a bitter dispute over ownership of potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean — spoke by phone after the earthquake and said they were ready to help one another, Ankara said.
AFAD put the magnitude of the earthquake at 6.6, while the US Geological Survey said it was 7.0. It was felt along Turkey’s Aegean coast and the northwestern Marmara region, media said.