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Utility chiefs to be charged over Fukushima nuclear crisis

TEPCO executives accused of negligence in protecting power station despite being aware of tsunami risks

A Japanese judicial committee has decided that three former utility executives should face criminal charges for negligence in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A document released Friday showed the committee of independent citizens voted in favor of indicting Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, who was the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) at the time of the crisis, along with Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takeguro, 69, who were vice presidents.

The 11-member committee's second decision supporting the indictment overrides Tokyo prosecutors' two earlier decisions to drop the case, so the three men are to be charged with professional negligence. It will be the first criminal case involving the utility's officials to be tried in court in relation to the disaster. In September 2013 and again in January this year, prosecutors cited lack of evidence to prove the executives could foresee the danger of a tsunami and decided not to file charges.

The committee, in its July 17 decision, alleged that the three men neglected to take sufficient measures even though at least two years before the accident, they were fully aware of the risk of a major tsunami at TEPCO's Fukushima plant. It said they should be charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury during the accident and its aftermath, including the deaths of dozens of senior citizens in a hospital during and after the lengthy evacuation.

The Tokyo District Court will now choose a team of lawyers to act as prosecutors to press charges in court.

Three reactors had meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, triggering massive radiation leaks that forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

Government and parliamentary investigative reports have said TEPCO's lack of safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimate of tsunami threats, led to the disaster.

The committee's decision sustains an appeal representing more than 5,700 people from Fukushima and other parts of Japan, urging prosecutors to investigate and send the utility executives to court to determine who was responsible for the disaster. They said the TEPCO executives failed to fulfill their obligation to prevent a serious accident.

The committee said Friday that Fukushima Dai-ichi had a reputation as being among the nuclear plants with the "least safety margin for tsunami."

TEPCO President Naomi Hirose declined to comment because the case is pending.

"We've finally come this far," said Ruiko Muto, who heads the group that filed the complaint, said Fukushima residents hit by the disaster have long sought criminal liability to be clarified in court. "We believe the truth of the accident will be revealed in criminal trial proceedings to bring justice."

The Associated Press

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