In a victory for the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, led by Ms. Ruiko Muto, on February 29, 2016, Court-appointed attorneys serving as prosecutors indicted three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owner and operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The three TEPCO executives were charged with criminal negligence for their role in the reactor meltdown following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Prosecutors issued a statement in which they reported that the evacuations during the meltdowns, which were often chaotic and ill-planned, caused 44 deaths. Many of those were thought to be older people in nursing homes and hospitals, or unable to evacuate from home due to disability.
No deaths from radiation were reported. There have been, however, multiple reports of children in the Fukushima area who have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer following their exposure. Children are highly susceptible to the effects of radiation exposure.
At a press conference following the indictment, Ms Muto said “This is a relief for the tens of thousands of victims who are still dealing with hardships and anguish…its wrong that no one has taken responsibility.”
Prosecutors had previously refused to bring charges in the case, saying that there was not enough evidence that TEPCO officials’ actions rose to the level of criminal wrongdoing. Ms. Muto’s group, the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, demanded a review of this decision.
Two committees of private citizens, only rarely used under Japanese law to review prosecutors’ decisions on whether to indict, reviewed the case and both determined that TEPCO officials should be criminally charged.
The date for the trial has not yet been set. Lawyers involved in the case said it would probably begin later this year.
The trial will provide needed public examination of TEPCO’s actions both leading up to the disaster and in its aftermath.
Some of the issues of controversy involve how much time passed before TEPCO declared a meltdown event in the three Fukushima Daiichi reactors following the earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011. The tidal wave had crashed over a thirty foot high sea-wall and swamped the generators, causing the cooling system to fail. Studies before the tsumani had suggested that waves higher than the sea wall might occur following a major earthquake, and some engineers and others had suggested the wall be built higher and the backup generators be moved to safer, more protected areas.
It it weren’t for the perseverance and determination of Ms Muto’s citizens’ group, the original decision by prosecutors not to bring charges against TEPCO officials would have remained unchallenged.
This indictment is true testimony to the dedication of a small group of determined citizens and their supporters.
Congratulations, Ruiko Muto!