Court clears 3 linked to Fukushima meltdown

People protested and vowed to appeal a Japanese court ruling on Thursday which cleared three former energy executives of any criminal role in the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant, agencies report.

A tsunami on March 11 triggered by a 9-magnitude earthquake sent waves as high as 14 metres into the cooling systems of Daiichi nuclear plant causing meltdown of three of its six reactors and radiation over a wide area in Fukushima.

Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi ruled that the executives — former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto — could not have anticipated the unprecedented scale of the tsunami that struck the plant.

The government’s nuclear watchdog did not instruct Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which employed the three executives, to suspend plant operations until safety measures were taken.

The legal team of Fukushima disaster victims is expected to appeal the ruling.

During the lone criminal trial linked to Fukushima disaster, the defence team argued that it was impossible for their clients to predict the towering waves that swamped the nuclear power station. 

The executives said they knew about the impact of tsunamis but trusted those in charge of nuclear safety.

The prosecutors contended that the executives were warned of the huge waves at a meeting of experts. Had the energy bosses taken anti-tsunami steps, the Fukushima meltdown would have been averted, they said.

The radiation from the nuclear plant did not kill anyone but the court hearings revolved round the indirect role of the executives in the deaths of some 40 people in various hospitals after they were evacuated along with some 160,000 people from Fukushima.

The earthquake and the ensuing floods left more than 18,400 people dead or missing.

Lawyers fighting for the victims of the nuclear disaster are expecting a long legal battle.

Survivors of the meltdown said they were shocked by the court ruling as they believe the lapses of the executives led to the tragedy and made thousands of people homeless.

Greenpeace said Japan’s legal system failed to protect the right of tens of thousands of people affected by the Fukushima incident.

Tepco will take 40 years or more to locate and remove the melted fuel from the reactor cores.