Tepco executives cleared over Fukushima disaster

Agency, 19 September : More than eight years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Japanese court has cleared three former executives of the firm operating the plant of professional negligence.

It was the only criminal case to arise out of the disaster, which was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986. In 2011 a plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) was hit by a tsunami causing a triple meltdown.

Nearly 18,500 people died or are missing from the wider disaster. Hundreds of thousands were evacuated from the region. Though no one died directly in the nuclear meltdown, Tepco is facing several compensation claims.

In the much anticipated verdict, a Tokyo court found ex-chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and vice-presidents Sakae Muto, 66 and Ichiro Takekuro, 71 not guilty of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. They were facing five years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors had argued that the ex-employees should have understood the risk of a tsunami and failed to act on information that was available to them.

The charges against the three former executives are linked to more than 40 hospitalised patients who had to be hastily rushed out of the evacuation zone and into different hospitals. They later died.

The trial, which started in June 2017, was conducted after a judicial panel ruled the three men should be put on trial which meant the prosecution had to pick up the case.

Prosecutors had twice declined to press criminal charges against the former executives, saying there was little chance of success.

The accident led to a complete shutdown of all nuclear reactors in the country. Despite widespread anti-nuclear sentiment, several reactors have since resumed operations after passing special safety checks.

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