A Japanese court has begun a trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. All three have pleaded not guilty in connection with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, saying they could not have predicted the enormous tsunami that flooded the plant.
“I apologize for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials,” said Tsunehisa Katsumata, former chairmen of TEPCO. He added, however, “I believe I don’t have a criminal responsibility in the case.”
If convicted, Katsumata and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro face up to five years in prison and a fine up to $9,000.
The charges against the executives are linked to the deaths of 40 hospital patients who were evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed 20,000 people in northeastern Japan. Not only did the disaster trigger the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima power plant, it also reignited debate about the risks of nuclear energy.
Communities around the plant, and even those hundreds of kilometers away, were evacuated. Some areas remain uninhabitable.
Ruiko Muto, the leader of a group that urged officials to take the executives to trial, told the French news agency that since the nuclear accident, “nobody has been held responsible, nor has it been made clear why it happened.”