Japanese prosecutors have demanded the top three executives at Tokyo Electric Power Company receive five-year prison sentences for failing to take measures to prevent the disastrous triple meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
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Ex-TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto have all pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, claiming they could not have anticipated the tsunami that triggered the catastrophic meltdown – and that even if they had implemented preventative measures, they wouldn’t have been sufficient to prevent the disaster.
All three executives were told years before the accident that a tsunami could hit the plant, triggering just the sort of catastrophe that culminated in the 2011 meltdown, the prosecution claimed. Not only did the executives not attempt any preventative measures, but they didn’t even try to gather further information about how such an event might endanger the plant.
“It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly,” the prosecution argued. “That led to the deaths of many people.” The trio faces responsibility for the deaths of 44 people, including 13 hospital patients forced to evacuate themselves amidst the chaos.
The executives claimed they had not been informed of the tsunami risk, opting to shift blame onto their underlings, according to NHK.
While the Fukushima meltdown took place seven years ago, the prosecution has only just now delivered its sentencing recommendations in a trial that nearly did not happen. Public prosecutors twice chose not to seek indictments against the TEPCO brass, but an independent citizens’ panel pushed for a trial.
Last year, Fukushima victims won a landmark class action suit that found TEPCO officials had not adequately prepared for potential disasters. A $ 4.5 million payout was split among 3,800 plaintiffs.
The chain-reaction Fukushima disaster, beginning with an earthquake, leading to a tsunami and culminating in the worst meltdown since Chernobyl, is believed to have killed 19,000 people. The radiation released from that catastrophe has also begun taking its toll, with the first official radiation death tallied in September. The area surrounding Fukushima is still highly radioactive, and 30,000 people have been unable to return to their homes.
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