Japan’s Tokyo District Court on 19 September ruled that three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) were not guilty of professional negligence in the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The court ruling ends the only criminal trial following the nuclear meltdowns forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents. The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the decision.
Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and two other former executives, Sakae Muto, 69, and Ichiro Takekuro, 73, were also found not guilty of causing the deaths of 44 elderly patients whose health deteriorated during or after evacuation from a local hospital.
The officials were charged with failing to foresee the tsunami that struck the plant and for failing to take preventive measures that might have protected the Fukushima Daiichi station, with prosecutors demanding a five-year prison sentence for each.
During the opening session in June 2017, they pleaded not guilty, arguing that predicting the tsunami was impossible. The court ruling said the officials were aware of a need to improve tsunami prevention measures and were considering taking steps, but their measures were in line with government safety standards at the time. Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi noted that experts were also divided over evaluations of various tsunami predictions.
Although the March 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake had subjected the Fukushima Daiichi plant to forces far greater than it was designed to withstand, the six reactors at the plant, and four units at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant survived the earthquake relatively unaffected. However, the Fukushima Daiichi units were severely damaged by the subsequent huge tsunami, leading to three reactor meltdowns.
A July 2012 report from the Japanese Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded the accident was "man-made". No organisation was held responsible with the blame being leveled at Japanese culture.