Three former executives from Tokyo Electric Power were indicted Monday for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent Japan’s worst nuclear accident in 2011, the country’s first criminal charges related to the disaster, local media reported.
The plant suffered a triple meltdown after it was struck by the earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11, 2011. More than 100,000 peopl have been unable to return to homes near the facilities due to radiation contamination.
Former company chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro will face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, Kyodo News agency reported.
The indictment blamed the three for the deaths of 44 elderly patients forced to evacuate from hospital, and injuries to 13 people, including members of the Japanese military, linked to the incident and aftermath.
The trial is unlikely to start late this year after the compilation of evidence.
The indicted former executives, who have not been taken into custody, are likely to plead not guilty, Kyodo reported, citing unnamed sources.
A Tokyo Electric spokesman said the company declined to comment.
In September 2013, prosecutors decided not to indict the suspects, but the decision was overturned in July 2015 by a panel of citizens that mandated the three be charged on the grounds they were able to predict the risks of a major tsunami prior to the disaster.
The plant location was long known to be seismically active.
A group of Fukushima citizens and other people filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against dozens of government and Tokyo Electric officials over their responsibility in connection with the disaster.
Public prosecutors, however, decided not to file charges, including against then-premier Naoto Kan.
In 2012, an independent investigation commission reported that although the tsunami and earthquake were natural, the disastrous impact on the power plant and surrounding area were the clear result of "manmade" collusion between the government, regulators and Tokyo Electric officials.
Masumi Kowata, a resident in Okuma town, which hosts the Fukushima plant, said she met Katsumata and other Tokyo Electric officials in 2004 in her capacity as member of a monitoring group for the plant.
"I urged Mr Katsumata to take measures against tsunamis, but he told me it would be too costly,” said Kowata, now a town councillor.
Kowata demanded Tokyo Electric relocate backup emergency diesel generators from the basement of the turbine buildings to higher ground, she recalled.
But the operator did not listen, she said.
The 2011 tsunami inundated the backup generators, leading to the failure of the reactors’ cooling systems and causing leaks of massive radioactive materials.
“Tokyo Electric decided to ignore the importance of human lives and instead put priority only on the company’s profits,” she said.