August 1, 2015
EDITORIAL: Trials of ex-TEPCO bigwigs a chance to take fresh look at disaster
Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. will stand trial over their criminal responsibility for the 2011 disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
For the second time, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution has rejected an earlier decision by prosecutors not to indict the three, setting the stage for the forced prosecution of these three individuals.
They will be accused of professional negligence resulting in the deaths of people who were in hospitals when the disaster happened and other tragedies.
A report issued by the Diet’s Fukushima nuclear accident investigation committee states, “It is clear that the accident was a man-made disaster.”
But no government officials or TEPCO employees have been punished, either politically or administratively. In other words, no one has been held accountable for the nation's worst nuclear accident.
Many Japanese citizens still feel that justice has not been meted out with regard to that harrowing disaster. Many are also concerned that a similar accident may occur again if nobody is held responsible for what happened in 2011.
A second decision by the independent judicial panel of citizens to demand the criminal prosecution of the three former TEPCO executives should be viewed as indicative of the disturbing and disquieting feelings among many citizens.
The system of forced indictment through the judgment of citizens was introduced in 2009, along with the “saiban-in” citizen judge system. Until that time, public prosecutors monopolized the power to decide whether to indict a suspect. The new system is intended to ensure that public opinion is reflected in the process of criminal prosecution, at least to a certain degree.
In reversing public prosecutors’ decision not to indict the suspects on grounds that there is no compelling case for holding them liable for negligence, the panel of citizens made a grave decision to force trials of the three individuals.
The court should, of course, consider carefully and fairly whether the former TEPCO executives should be held liable for the misfortunes of disaster victims from the viewpoint of evidence submitted.
At the same time, one question that needs to be asked is how TEPCO implemented measures to protect the nuclear plant from a possible tsunami and ensure the plant’s safety.
Collectively, the trials will offer a great opportunity to take a fresh look into the accident from a perspective that is different from those of the investigation committees set up by the government and the Diet.
There have not been many opportunities for people to talk about the disaster in public. But the three former TEPCO executives will probably be given opportunities to speak in the courtroom. The court can also order submission of specific pieces of evidence.
Future public debate on issues concerning nuclear power generation will benefit greatly if the trials uncover unknown facts in the process, such as chronological changes in the utility’s decisions concerning safety measures for its nuclear power plants and the ways the government and other public organizations influenced the company’s policy.
The nation’s judiciary has a long history of handing down rulings related to nuclear power generation. But in most of the past cases concerning the construction and operations of nuclear power plants, the courts ruled against opposing local residents.
The question is whether all these court rulings in favor of nuclear power were influenced in any way by the perception that there is no way to stop the expansion of electricity production with atomic energy based on the government’s energy policy.
The judiciary’s attitude to nuclear power generation has also been called into question by the accident.
In considering the criminal liabilities related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which has caused an unprecedented scale of damage, are the traditional criteria, like “specific predictability,” sufficiently effective?
The trials should prompt the judicial community to have more in-depth debate on this question.
We strongly hope the trials will be conducted in a way that lives up to people’s confidence in the judicial system.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 1