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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Former TEPCO bosses indicted over Fukushima disaster
By Natsuko FUKUE
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 29, 2016


Glitch halts Japan reactor days after restart: utility
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 29, 2016 - A Japanese utility on Monday said that a surprise glitch has switched off a nuclear reactor just days after it was turned on again after a nationwide shutdown following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Kansai Electric Power had been planning to start generating electricity on Monday from its No. 4 reactor at the Takahama plant, 380 kilometres (236 miles) west of Tokyo.

But the reactor unexpectedly shut down Monday afternoon after the restart began Friday, marking the first major technical problem for a restart since Tokyo approved switching on sites considered safe.

Operator Osaka-based Kansai Electric said it was probing the cause.

The reactor had been the fourth to come back online after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

Last month, Kansai Electric switched on another reactor at the Takahama plant, despite stiff opposition from local residents.

The region's Fukui District Court in December overturned an injunction preventing a restart of the two reactors which had been won by residents. They had argued it was not proven to be safe despite a green light from the national Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Two reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, operated by Kyushu Electric Power, restarted in August and October of last year, ending the two-year hiatus in nuclear power generation.

A pair reactors were briefly switched on again after the accident but were then shuttered.

Anti-nuclear sentiment still runs high in Japan and there was widespread opposition to restarts.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies have been pushing to get reactors back in operation nearly five years after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused a disastrous meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.

The accident forced resource-poor Japan to turn to pricey fossil fuels to plug an energy gap left by the shutdown of dozens of nuclear reactors.

Abe has argued that resuming nuclear power was key to Japan's energy policy.

Three former executives of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant operator were indicted Monday over the 2011 atomic accident, in what will be the first criminal trial linked to the disaster.

Ex-Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro were formally charged with professional negligence resulting in deaths and injury for their role in the crisis.

The trio were not taken into custody.

"I'm full of emotion," Ruiko Muto, head of a campaign group pushing for a trial, told a Tokyo press briefing.

"This will be a great encouragement for hundreds of thousands of nuclear accident victims who are still suffering and facing hardship," she added.

A judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in July -- for the second time since the accident -- that the three men should be put on trial.

The decision compelled prosecutors to press on with the criminal case under Japanese law.

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

It will be the first criminal trial over responsibility for the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns that forced thousands from their homes in the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

It is expected to take at least six months for the first trial to start, said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer representing the campaigner group.

The trio face jail time of up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($8,850) if convicted.

Public broadcaster NHK said the former executives would plead not guilty, arguing it was impossible to predict the size of the massive tsunami that slammed into Japan's northeast coast.

Although the March 11 earthquake and tsunami killed 18,500 people, the nuclear disaster it caused is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.

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

Around a dozen others -- including TEPCO employees and members of Japan's Self Defense Forces -- were injured during the accident.

- 'Major step forward' -

Environmental group Greenpeace said the decision to press on with a criminal case was "a major step forward".

"The court proceedings that will now follow should reveal the true extent of TEPCO's and the Japanese regulatory system's enormous failure to protect the people of Japan," said Hisayo Takada, deputy programme director at the organisation's Japan office.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last year said a misguided faith in the complete safety of atomic power was a key factor in the Fukushima accident.

It pointed to weaknesses in disaster preparedness and in plant design, along with unclear responsibilities among regulators.

A 2012 parliamentary report also said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan's culture of "reflexive obedience", but no one has been punished criminally.

An angry public pointed to cosy ties among the government, regulators and nuclear operators that allegedly insulated TEPCO's executives from being charged.

Campaigners have called for about three dozen company officials to be held accountable for their failure properly to protect the site against the tsunami.

The accident at Fukushima forced the shutdown of dozens of reactors across Japan, with a handful now having been restarted.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies are still pushing to get reactors back in operation, nearly five years after the crisis.

But anti-nuclear sentiment remains high in Japan and there is widespread opposition to restarts.

nf-pb/jv

TEPCO - TOKYO ELECTRIC POWER


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