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Three ex-TEPCO executives indicted over Fukushima nuclear disaster, asahi, 2/29/2016

original article:

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. will finally have to explain in court their actions–or inaction–in relation to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant five years ago.

Court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors filed indictments at the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 29 against the three former executives on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69, are accused of failing to implement safety measures despite being aware of the possibility that such an accident could unfold at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The indictment says the three knew beforehand that a tsunami exceeding 10 meters could hit the plant, flood a reactor building, cause a loss of electric power, and lead to an explosion. But they still did not take adequate measures to safeguard the plant.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant is located 10 meters above sea level.

A tsunami greater than 10 meters did hit the plant site following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. The waves flooded reactor buildings, knocked out power and caused hydrogen gas explosions.

A number of patients at hospitals in the vicinity of the stricken nuclear plant died or were injured in the subsequent evacuation. The indictment said the three former executives should be held criminally responsibility for these deaths and injuries.

The three former executives are expected to plead innocent at their trial.

However, the trial is expected to bring into the open internal TEPCO documents that have not been released until now.

After a criminal complaint was submitted by residents and citizens groups, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided in September 2013 not to indict the former executives, citing the difficulty in predicting such an accident.

However, in July 2014, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution overrode the prosecutors’ decision and sent the case back to them for a further look.

But the prosecutors again decided not to indict the three.

In July 2015, the inquest committee handed down a second decision stating the three former executives should be indicted because “they bore the obligation to hold a high level of attention in order to prepare against the remote chance of an accident.”

Before they submitted the indictment to the court, the five court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors read over the former executives’ responses to questioning by prosecutors.

TEPCO issued a statement on Feb. 29 saying it would refrain from commenting on a legal case.

TEPCO ordered to pay couple who ‘voluntarily’ fled Fukushima after nuclear disaster, asahi, 2/19/2016

original article:

KYOTO–The Kyoto District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 30.46 million yen ($267,000) to a couple for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The district court’s unprecedented ruling on Feb. 18 said the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant contributed to the insomnia and depression the husband developed after his family fled Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Although the plaintiffs did not live in a government-designated evacuation zone around the plant, the court said evacuating voluntarily is “appropriate when the hazard from the accident and conflicting information remained.”

The ruling was the first to award damages to voluntary evacuees, according to a private group of lawyers involved in lawsuits against TEPCO and the central government over the nuclear disaster.

The man, who is in his 40s, his wife and three children were seeking a total of 180 million yen against TEPCO.

According to the ruling, the husband and wife had managed a company that operated restaurants in Fukushima Prefecture. The family fled their home a few days after the nuclear accident started in March 2011 and moved to Kyoto in may that year.

The court acknowledged the man suffered severe mental stress because he had to leave his hometown and quit his position as representative of the company.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the central government’s compensation standards for residents who evacuated on their own.

The utility argued that its payments were appropriate because they were based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines dictate uniform and fixed payments for residents who left areas outside designated evacuation zones.

However, the district court said these guidelines “simply show a list of damages that can be broken down and the scope of damages.”

The court concluded that compensation amounts should instead reflect the personal circumstances of evacuees in nuclear accident-related cases.

It ordered TEPCO to compensate the couple for the period through August 2012, when radiation levels dropped to a certain level and information on the nuclear accident became more stable and accurate.

Specifically, the court said the husband and wife are entitled to part of the monthly remuneration of 400,000 yen to 760,000 yen they had received each for having to suspend their business following the nuclear accident.

But the court dismissed the damage claims of the couple’s three children, saying their compensation was already covered by TEPCO’s payments.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved in 21 damages suits filed in Fukushima Prefecture, Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere.

An estimated 18,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still living in voluntary evacuation, according to the prefectural government.

By YUTO YONEDA/ Staff Writer

Elderly woman’s death linked to 2011 disaster, court rules, asahi shinbun, 12/10/14

SENDAI–A district court here ordered the city government to retract its earlier decision not to pay special condolence money to the family of an 85-year-old woman who died after the 2011 earthquake disaster.

In its Dec. 9 ruling, the Sendai District Court acknowledged that the woman’s death was linked to the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the Tohoku region.

“(The woman) was unable to swallow after her living conditions worsened because of the disaster,” Presiding Judge Kenji Takamiya said. “As a result, she developed pneumonia and died.”

It is the first court ruling related to the disaster in which a local government has been ordered to rescind its decision to refuse a special payment for the death of a victim by denying the correlation, according to lawyers representing the plaintiff.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11 destroyed the home she lived in with her partner. The woman’s health deteriorated in April that year when she was admitted to a special nursing-care home. She died in August after developing pneumonia twice, and other illnesses.

Medical records submitted to the court showed that she had difficulty swallowing food by April.

The case against the Sendai municipal government was filed by Hayao Abiko, 72, the deceased’s common-law husband.

Over 67% of decontamination businesses violating law: Fukushima Labor Bureau, fukushima minpo, 3/13/14

A total of 446 business operators involved in radioactive decontamination work related to the tsunami-triggered nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were violating the law, reaching 67.6% of the 660 business operators surveyed through on-site inspections from July to December last year, the Fukushima Labor Bureau said March 12 in a report.

In a similar survey conducted from January to June last year, law violations were found at 68% of business operators. The local labor bureau said there has not been any improvement in the situation as new entities with little knowledge about legal matters are continuing to enter business in the field.

According to the bureau, the 446 business operators were involved in 1,105 cases of legal violations. Of the cases, 742 involved labor conditions such as failure to pay wages, and 363 had to do with health and safety such as a lack of safety training. As the most common violation involving working conditions, 159 of the cases involved issues like nonpayment for overtime work. As for health and safety, the biggest number of violations — 44 cases — involved failure to conduct prior checks on the amounts of radiation in the air at work sites.

The bureau said it has instructed the business operators in question to correct their practices based on the labor standards law and the industrial safety and health law.

THREE YEARS AFTER: Man sues over failures in 3/11 tsunami warnings, asahi, 3/13/14

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Prefecture–A man who lost his wife in the 2011 disaster has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for what he claims were failures in the tsunami warning system.

According to Toshiyuki Omori, 63, the understated tsunami warning issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency is to blame for the inability of his wife, Sachiko, to flee in time.

He is seeking a total of 60 million yen ($583,000) in compensation from the central and municipal governments.

The lawsuit dated March 10 was filed in the Morioka District Court. It is the first lawsuit that calls into question the warning systems that were in place at the time of the disaster generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Omori, who used to run a soba restaurant here, says that clarifying the reasons behind the understated tsunami warnings will lead to improvements that could prevent future loss of life.

According to the lawsuit, at 2:49 p.m. on March 11, 2011, three minutes after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck, the Meteorological Agency issued a warning that predicted a 3-meter tsunami hitting the coast of Iwate Prefecture.

Omori’s wife died at their home, which was located about 2 kilometers from the coast.

The disaster preparedness PA system set up by the Rikuzentakata municipal government informed residents about the tsunami warning. However, a blackout at the local fire station left communications equipment inoperable, so they did not receive a subsequent warning from the Meteorological Agency at 3:14 p.m. that predicted a 6-meter tsunami. As a result, residents were not informed about the possibility of a larger tsunami striking.

Omori is calling into question the Meteorological Agency’s assessment of the likely size of the tsunami despite the fact that seismograph needles went beyond what the equipment was capable of handling.

“The agency should have issued a warning that said there was the possibility of an unprecedented gigantic tsunami striking,” Omori said.

He named the municipal government as a defendant because of its insufficient maintenance of its fire station equipment.

According to the Rikuzentakata municipal government’s report about evacuation after the quake and tsunami, the tsunami that struck the city was about 14 meters high.

“I believe there were many people who were slow in evacuating because they heard the understated warning,” Omori said. “This is not a matter that can be put aside with such words as ‘beyond the scope of assumptions’ or ‘unparalleled.'”

An official with the Meteorological Agency said, “We cannot comment because we have not yet read the lawsuit.”

An official with the Rikuzentakata municipal government also said no response could be made because the city was not yet aware of the contents of the lawsuit.

The initial 3-meter tsunami warning for Iwate Prefecture was based on the estimated magnitude of 7.9 that was calculated from the seismographs set up around Japan.

The early-measurement system in place at the time, which issued preliminary magnitude estimates in about three minutes, was unable to calculate any quake above magnitude-8.0.

The more accurate system that calculated magnitude in about 15 minutes also did not function because the needles on 19 of the 21 advanced seismographs went beyond what the equipment was capable of handling.

Using offshore wave gauges, the expected tsunami heights for Iwate and Fukushima prefectures were revised from 3 meters to 6 meters at 3:14 p.m. The tsunami height for Miyagi Prefecture was revised from 6 meters to more than 10 meters.

It was not until 3:31 p.m. that the Meteorological Agency revised the tsunami height for all three prefectures to more than 10 meters.

That revised warning came after the tsunami struck the coast of all three prefectures.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Meteorological Agency installed 80 seismographs around Japan capable of measuring even earthquakes of magnitude-9.0. New water pressure gauges have also been installed off the Pacific coast to more accurately predict the height of expected tsunami.

Tsunami warnings have also been changed from reporting expected heights to simply announcing a “gigantic” or “large” tsunami is expected.


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