Duties and functions

Former TEPCO executives found responsible for damage caused by Fukushima nuclear crisis

This February 13, 2021 photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

This file photo shows a building that houses the Tokyo District and High Courts in the capital’s Chiyoda district. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A Tokyo court on Wednesday ordered former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay the utility some 13 trillion yen ($95 billion) in damages in total for failing to prevent the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The ruling in favor of shareholders who filed a lawsuit in 2012 is the first to order former TEPCO executives to pay compensation after the nuclear plant in northeastern Japan caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in the world. history sparked by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Tokyo District Court presiding judge Yoshihide Asakura said the public service’s tsunami countermeasures “fundamentally lacked security awareness and a sense of responsibility”, ruling that leaders failed to fulfill their functions.

Had tsunami resilience work been carried out to prevent flooding of major structures, TEPCO could have prevented the disaster, during which power was lost and reactor cooling functions were crippled, causing cave-ins of the reactor, according to the decision.

Of the five defendants – former president Tsunehisa Katsumata, former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, former president Masataka Shimizu and former chief executive Akio Komori – the court says all but Komori must pay damages and interests.

“It’s a historic verdict that deserves lasting praise,” Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the shareholders, said at a press conference. “It showed that corporate executives have such heavy responsibility and could even be held liable for damages in the event of an accident.”

The damages of more than 13 trillion yen are likely the largest ever recorded in a civil lawsuit in Japan, although it is realistic for the company to recover them from former executives.

Nearly 50 shareholders had claimed a total of around 22 trillion yen ($160 billion) in damages.

TEPCO declined to comment on the decision, saying it would refrain from answering questions related to individual lawsuits.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno reiterated the government’s policy of continuing to use nuclear power despite the disaster, saying, “We will make safety our top priority and do everything we can to resolve people’s concerns. Japanese”.

The focus of the trial was whether management decisions on tsunami countermeasures were appropriate after a TEPCO unit estimated in 2008 that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters could hit the plant on the basis of the government’s long-term assessment of earthquakes made public in 2002.

Shareholders said the government’s assessment was the “best scientific assessment”, but management postponed taking preventive measures, such as installing a dyke.

Lawyers for the former executives said the valuation lacked reliability and that the accident happened when management was asking a civil engineering association to study whether the utility should incorporate the valuation into its counter-measures. measures.

The court ruled that the government’s assessment was reliable enough to compel the company to take action against the tsunami. “It is extremely irrational and unforgivable” to postpone a decision to act on the government’s study, the ruling said.

In a criminal trial in 2019, the defendants were acquitted on the grounds that they could not foresee that a giant tsunami would trigger a nuclear disaster.

Yukie Yoshida, 46, who was forced to evacuate her home near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, said: “My life will not change even if the damages are paid to TEPCO”, adding: “I just want to go back home as soon as possible.”

More than 15,000 people lost their lives after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused widespread damage in the northeast of the country and triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear complex.

Some 38,000 people were still displaced in March, mainly due to the consequences of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

There is still a prohibited zone near the Fukushima plant where dismantling work must continue until between 2041 and 2051.