Three former executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have been formally charged with negligence over the 2011 disaster at the company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
In accordance with a ruling from a citizen’s panel last year — and despite two previous refusals by Tokyo prosecutors to press charges — the three will be the first to go to court over the catastrophic meltdown, which followed a massive tsunami.
Those charged include former TEPCO chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, and former executive vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, according to Reuters. As their indictments did not stipulate arrest, none of the trio have been taken into custody.
Despite previous claims there was insufficient evidence necessary to prosecute, a unique component of the country’s legal system allowed citizens to make the final call. As Reuters explained:
“Japanese citizens’ panels, made up of residents selected by lottery, are a rarely-used but high-profile feature of Japan’s legal system introduced after World War Two to curb bureaucratic overreach. They were given the power to force prosecutions if they called for them a second time.”
That panel found the three executives did not exercise sufficient preventive means, despite being warned of the potential effects a tsunami could have on the Fukushima plant.
Japan’s national media outlet, NHK, said the three former executives planned to enter not-guilty pleas, as they could not have anticipated the size of the March 2011 tsunami, said the BBC.
None of the three charged were available for comment, reported Reuters.
Nearly five years ago, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Japan, spurring an enormous tsunami, which forced roughly 160,000 residents to flee. Three reactors at the Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns as the wall of water knocked power offline, triggering chain reactions.
Close to 16,000 people died and around 2,500 are still listed as missing from events of that day — though none have been directly attributed to the nuclear catastrophe. As radioactive contamination has created an uninhabitable zone surrounding the plant, and with leaks and general mismanagement of the Fukushima cleanup still continuously making headlines, the meltdown is considered nearly on par with Chernobyl in 1986.