Former Tepco Chairman Said Questioned in Fukushima Legal Probe

Prosecutors questioned the former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. as part of a criminal investigation into the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant, Kyodo news service reported, without citing anyone.

Tsunehisa Katsumata, who served as chairman of the power company known as Tepco until June 2012, was interviewed by investigators probing alleged professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries connected to the accident, Kyodo reported today.

Katsumata was questioned about whether the disaster, during which an earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986, could have been predicted and measures that were taken to prepare for such a crisis, as well as officials’ response, according to Kyodo.

Tsuyoshi Numajiri, a Tepco spokesman, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg News that the company would cooperate with any investigation. He declined to comment further. Officials at the Tokyo and Fukushima prosecutors offices declined to comment.

The investigation is in response to a complaint filed in June with the Fukushima City prosecutor’s office by more than 1,300 residents alleging negligence in Japan’s worst civil nuclear-plant accident.

The complaint targets around 40 people, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Haruki Madarame, the former head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, Kyodo said.

“Man-made” Failures

They are accused of being responsible for the injury from radiation exposure and deaths of hospital inpatients during their transfer to a hospital, Ikuo Yasuda, a lawyer representing residents who filed the complaint, said in an August interview.

The investigators plan to decide whether to pursue criminal charges in the spring, Kyodo reported.

Prosecutors took up the case last year 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. 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.

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.

Three reactors had meltdowns, causing release of radiation into the air and sea, forcing the evacuation of 160,000 people.

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