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Ex-bosses stand trial over 2011 Fukushima crisis in Japan
Tokyo (AFP) June 30, 2017

Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster: a timeline
Tokyo (AFP) June 30, 2017 - On Friday, three former executives at the operator of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant went on trial, facing the only criminal charges laid in the March 2011 accident.

Here are some key developments in the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986:

- March 11, 2011 -

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake strikes off Japan's northeast coast, causing a massive tsunami that destroys entire towns and villages along the Pacific shore, leaving nearly 18,500 people dead or missing

The power supply and reactor cooling systems at the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 220 kilometres (135 miles) northeast of Tokyo are damaged, causing fuel inside to overheat and meltdown.

The government issues evacuation orders to residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the plant. The government gradually expands the order.

- March 12, 2011 -

Workers open a vent of a reactor, releasing pressure and radioactive fumes from inside.

The first of a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant rips through a building casing reactor number one, but the reactor itself remains intact.

Some 160,000 people living near the plant leave their homes.

- March 16, 2011 -

Emperor Akihito makes an emergency television address in a bid to reassure a worried public.

- December 16, 2011 -

Japan says it has tamed the leaking reactors with the declaration they are in a state of cold shutdown.

- June 11, 2012 -

About 1,300 Fukushima residents file a criminal complaint against TEPCO executives and other bodies over the accident, starting a series of legal complaints to be filed in connection with the disaster.

- June 20, 2012 -

TEPCO releases an accident report that says the tsunami's strength was beyond what could have reasonably been foreseen.

- July 4, 2012 -

A panel of experts appointed by the parliament concludes its investigation into the accident. The panel says "it was a profoundly manmade disaster - that could and should have been foreseen and prevented."

- September 7, 2013 -

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims that the Fukushima crisis was "under control" in a speech to the International Olympic Committee.

Tokyo wins its bid to host the 2020 summer Games, but Fukushima plant work crews struggle to keep the situation under control, including trying to contain huge of amounts of waste water used to cool the crippled reactors. Decommissioning work is expected to take decades.

- September 9, 2013 -

Prosecutors decline to press charges against former TEPCO executives and other officials, saying there was little chance of conviction.

- July 31, 2015 -

A judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens rules -- for the second time since the accident -- that the three TEPCO executives should be put on trial.

- June 30, 2017 -

The three men plead not guilty to professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Three former executives from the operator of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant went on trial Friday, the only people ever to face a criminal court in connection with the 2011 meltdowns that left swathes of countryside uninhabitable.

Ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, all pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, more than six years after the worst atomic accident in a generation.

Katsumata told the Tokyo court it was impossible for him to have directly foreseen the risk of the towering waves that pummelled Japan's northeast coast in March 2011.

"I apologise for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials," Katsumata said in a barely audible voice, as he bowed.

But "I believe I don't have a criminal responsibility in the case".

The indictments are the first -- and only -- charges stemming from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges against the men, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.

But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the trio should be put on trial, which compelled prosecutors to press on with the case under Japanese law.

"Since the accident, nobody has been held responsible nor has it been made clear why it happened," Ruiko Muto, who heads the group that pushed for the trial, told AFP outside the Tokyo District Court Friday morning.

- 'Normal life' -

Evacuee Yoshiko Furukawa was outside the courthouse Friday with dozens of others who fled their homes after the accident.

"What I lost on March 11, 2011 was a normal life," said Furukawa, who now lives in a different city.

"As someone who knew nothing (about the risks of an accident), I'm now in my seventh year as an evacuee."

The prosecutor told the court Friday he would try to prove that the three defendants were able to foresee the risk of a huge tsunami and failed to take necessary steps to counter the risk.

The trio were present at safety meetings where experts presented the anticipated height of a tsunami occurring off the Fukushima coast, he said.

The defendants had access to data and studies pointing to the risk of a tsunami exceeding 10 metres (32 feet) in the area that could trigger power loss and severe accidents, he added.

"If they had fulfilled their responsibility to safety, the accident would have never occurred," the prosecutor said.

An earlier report by a government panel said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres could hit after a magnitude-8.3 quake.

Waves as high as 14 metres swamped the reactors' cooling systems in March 2011 after a 9.0 magnitude tremor.

Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.

The charges against the three Tepco executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.

Today, many evacuees are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home as fears over radiation persist.

A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said a misguided faith in the safety of atomic power was a key factor in the accident, pointing to weaknesses in disaster preparedness and unclear responsibilities among regulators.

A parliamentary report a year after the disaster said Fukushima was a man-made crisis caused by Japan's culture of "reflexive obedience".



Ex-bosses to go on trial over Fukushima disaster
Tokyo (AFP) June 28, 2017
Three former executives at Fukushima's operator stand trial this week on the only criminal charges laid in the 2011 disaster, as thousands remain unable to return to homes near the shuttered nuclear plant. The hearing on Friday comes more than a year after ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, we ... read more

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