Fukushima Operators “A band of dangerous criminals”

John LaForge

Japan Self-Defense Force officers in radiation protection suits hold a blue sheet over patients who were exposed to high levels of radiation during evacuation from Fukushima-Daiichi. A recent criminal indictment alleges that 44 hospitalized elderly people died during their evacuation. Photo: Getty Images.
Japan Self-Defense Force officers in radiation protection suits hold a blue sheet over patients who were exposed to high levels of radiation during evacuation from Fukushima-Daiichi. A recent criminal indictment alleges that 44 hospitalized elderly people died during their evacuation. Photo: Getty Images.

On Feb. 29, three former executives of Tokyo Elec. Power Co (Tepco)—the owner/operator of the $100 billion wreckage that’s become of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactor complex—were indicted for professional negligence prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.The Japanese parliament has declared that the triple reactor meltdown and global radiation dispersal was “a man-made disaster.”

The indictment in Tokyo District Court – of Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69 – follows a decision in July by an 11-member judicial committee to send the three men to a criminal court after prosecutors had earlier dropped the case twice.

The indictment alleges that the executives failed to take precautionary actions they were told were urgently needed against potentially enormous earthquakes and tsunamis. Specifically, the company refused to increase the height of the protective sea wall or to relocate emergency backup diesel generators which were flooded and destroyed by the surging tsunami. The earthquake was the strongest in Japanese history and resulted in the deaths of two onsite workers who drowned, 44 hospitalized elderly people during the evacuation period, and injuries to 13 soldiers who responded to the emergency, Kyodo News agency said. Tepco has recently admitted that one of its workers’ cancers was caused by onsite radiation exposures.

The criminal indictments are the first stemming from the triple nuclear reactor disaster, “which spread radiation across a wide area in northeastern Japan,” the New York Times reported.  While true, the Times’ description trivializes the extent of the dispersal, as radiation from the disaster spread around the world, for example to drinking water in dozens of US cities from California to Massachusetts. The US EPA also found Fukushima fallout in the US milk supply (iodine-131, cesium-137, and strontium-90), in Washington State, Arizona, California and Hawaii.

Sixty months of unending contamination of the Pacific Ocean by groundwater running through the reactor wreckage and then into the sea adds roughly 300 tons every day to what the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute has called “the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history.” In its March 1 edition, Scientific American put it this way: “To make matters worse, groundwater flowing from a hill behind the crippled plant now mingles with radioactive materials before heading into the sea.”

ABC News reports that plaintiffs in the new criminal case say they hope the trial will reveal information about the disaster -- and Tepco’s role in it – that has not been divulged by the government or the utility. Reports from government and parliamentary investigations of the accident have said a lack of a “safety culture” inside Tepco, biased risk assessment – including a gross underestimation of potential tsunami threats -- led to a preventable disaster.

The judicial committee that brought the indictment said in July that the executives were aware by 2009 of the risks that massive tsunamis presented to the Fukushima reactors. Japan Today reported: “former executives received a report by June 2009 that the plant could be hit by tsunami as high as 15.7 meters” [51 feet] and that the officials “failed to take pre-emptive measures knowing the risk of a major tsunami.” And the New York Times said, “Studies by seismologists before the tsunami had suggested that waves higher than the [site’s] 30-foot sea wall could strike the Pacific Coast…. Some engineers and critics of nuclear power had wanted the wall to be built higher, and critical [emergency] backup electrical generators to be moved to safer locations. The generators ended up swamped by seawater in the tsunami, which destroyed them and set off the cooling system failure.”

One expert critic, Takashi Hirose, the author of “Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster” (Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2011) says Tepco colluded with federal regulators to avoid needed tsunami safety measures. Takashi reports that Tepco was twice in the last 10 years convicted of concealing severe accidents at its reactors. Revelation of the cover-ups leads today’s plaintiffs to suspect that crucial information is still being secreted. Just this February, the company admitted that once it realized three meltdowns were underway it waited two full months to inform the world.

Takashi presaged today’s indictment of Tepco’s captains, writing: “Because these accidents were so dangerous, the electric companies and the nuclear industry concealed them from the public. Judging from this only, we can understand that these are bands of dangerous criminals.”

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