Prosecutors Start Criminal Probe Into Fukushima Nuclear Accident

Fukushima prosecutors began a criminal investigation into last year’s nuclear-plant accident after more than 1,300 residents filed a complaint against executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. including former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata.

The Fukushima City prosecutor yesterday accepted the complaint and will start a probe to determine whether there was professional negligence in Japan’s worst civil nuclear-plant accident, an official at the office said, who declined to be named in line with policy.

“Our complaint includes professional negligence resulting in bodily injury by radiation exposure and the death of hospital inpatients during transfer from Futaba Hospital” near the Fukushima plant, said Ikuo Yasuda, who runs his own law office and represents the residents. Yasuda confirmed the complaint was accepted yesterday by the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office.

Tokyo Electric said it hadn’t been informed by prosecutors that a complaint against former executives was accepted. “We can’t comment on this because we don’t know the complaint’s content,” Jun Oshima, a Tokyo-based spokesman for the utility, said by phone.

Prosecutors are taking up the case after completion of independent investigation reports. One published in July led by University of Tokyo Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa, said “man-made” failures led to the nuclear disaster last year. The direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable, the report said, but Tokyo Electric, regulators and the ministry of economy trade and industry overseeing the industry failed to develop basic safety requirements.

Not Foreseeable?

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant and its six reactors run by the utility known as Tepco was hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011 that knocked out mains power for cooling reactors. The 15-meter tsunami that followed destroyed electrical equipment and flooded basements with seawater that disabled back-up generators.

Hydrogen explosions then blew out reactor buildings and three reactors had meltdowns, releasing radiation and forcing the mass evacuation of 160,000 people from areas of land that will be uninhabitable for decades.

Tepco’s own research showed the plant might be subject to a tsunami of more than 10 meters and its executives knew of that data, the utility said last August, contradicting earlier claims by former President Masataka Shimizu and other officials that such a disaster was unforeseeable.

Lacks Enthusiasm

Another independent investigation of the disaster was led by University of Tokyo engineering professor Yotaro Hatamura and echoed the findings of the Kurokawa report. Besides a failure of disaster management and risk analysis, the utility lacks “sufficient enthusiasm to fully investigate the Fukushima disaster and learn lessons to prevent recurrence even more than one year after the accident,” according to the report released on July 23.

“After accepting the complaint, prosecutors are now required to begin an investigation,” said Yasuda, the lawyer representing the Fukushima residents. “They have to decide whether to seek an indictment and if they decide to drop the case, we will appeal.”

The residential group named Fukushima Nuclear-Plant Plaintiffs filed the complaint on June 11, naming at least 33 individuals, including former Tepco president Shimizu, the head of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission Shunsuke Kondo and Haruki Madarame, the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, Machiko Furukawa, an official at the group, said by telephone today.

Utility executives neglected to take proper protective measures against a tsunami at the Dai-Ichi plant, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Bloomberg News.

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