Ex-TEPCO execs deny charges in new trial

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company have denied charges of professional negligence in an appeals court hearing over the 2011 accident at the utility's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Former TEPCO chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa and former vice presidents Takekuro Ichiro and Muto Sakae were indicted in 2016 by court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The indictment was based on a decision by a prosecution inquest panel composed of randomly chosen citizens, who said the three were responsible for the deaths of 44 people, including patients at a hospital in Fukushima Prefecture, during evacuation.

The Tokyo District Court acquitted the three in September 2019, saying they could not have foreseen the massive earthquake-triggered tsunami that crippled the nuclear plant. The plaintiffs' lawyers filed an appeal.

The hearing began at the Tokyo High Court on Tuesday.

The lawyers acting as prosecutors challenged the lower court ruling, saying it forcibly denied the credibility of the government's long-term tsunami assessment, the basis of plant safety measures.

They argued that the three former executives were required to build seawalls and take steps to keep water out of reactor buildings.

The defendants' lawyers claimed that measures to prevent damage from massive tsunami are so large-scale and time-consuming that even if they had been begun before March 2011, they would not have been completed in time for the disaster.

At the next hearing scheduled for February, the court is to decide whether judges will carry out an onsite inspection of the plant, as requested by the court-appointed lawyers.