TEPCO officials are pleading "not guilty" as their trial launches:
Ex-Tepco execs plead not guilty as trial starts over Fukushima crisis (June 30, 2017). The Mainichi https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170630/p2g/00m/0dm/043000c (Kyodo) -- Former top company officials responsible for the Fukushima Daiichi power plant pleaded not guilty Friday as they stood trial for their alleged failure to prevent the nuclear meltdown disaster triggered by the 2011 tsunami. Appearing before the Tokyo District Court for the first criminal trial over the disaster, Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, then chairman of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., started with an apology but added, "It was impossible to predict the accident."This assertion that there was no way of predicting the disaster was directly contested by the finding of Japanese Diet Independent Investigation, which summarized the cascading failures at the plant in its conclusion that the Fukushima crisis was a “man-made” disaster:
The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Japan National Diet (2012) ‘The Official Report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (2012)’, Executive Summary Available: http://naiic.go.jp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/NAIIC_report_hi_res2.pdf
The report emphasizes TEPCO's poor decision-making regarding the plant location, insufficient sea-wall, and poorly situated back-up generators. Japan's electrical utilities enjoyed, until recently, regional monopolies that insulated them from accountability.
Harutoshi Funabashi explains that the electrical companies cultivated networks of influence through industry grants and personal honorariums:
Harutoshi Funabashi, “Why the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Is A Man-Made Calamity,” The International Journal of Japanese Sociology 21 (2012): 65–75, doi:10.111/j.1475-6781.2012.01161.x;
Also see Scott Valentine and Benjamin Sovacool, “The Socio-Political Economy of Nuclear Power Development in Japan and South Korea,” Energy Policy 38 (2010): 7974, doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.09.036.
Cultivated networks of influential actors help shape public opinion at national and regional levels. Utilities have been active over the years in pushing municipalities to accept nuclear facilities.
I have argued in my books, especially Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk, that TEPCO has side-stepped legal and financial responsibility by shifting responsibility for risk to the government and to private citizens:
In 2011, TEPCO faced bankruptcy from expected liabilities (although exact figures were difficult to come by in part because of ambiguities in Japan's Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage
and other domestic laws governing nuclear liability in Japan at the time of the accident[ii]).
The decision was made by the Japanese National Diet to bailout the company with the establishment of the Facilitation Corporation in a August 3, 2011 bill, ‘Establishment of a Nuclear Damage Compensation Facilitation Corporation.”
Japanese media criticized the move by arguing it would allow shareholders and creditors to walk away “unscathed” in comparison to citizens who faced higher taxes and electricity.[iii]
That appears to have occurred as TEPCO returned to profitability in 2013 having externalized most of its losses through their socialization. TEPCO continued to receive funding grants from the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) through 2015, with its December grant of that year (of 56.7 billion yen) given in response to the company’s 47th request made for funding to cover compensation payments due to end 2016.[iv] In 2016, cost-estimates for “decommissioning” the Fukushima nuclear plant were once again revised upwards, in excess of ¥2 trillion.[v]
Between 2011 and 2014 there were no criminal indictments against former TEPCO execs over the Fukushima disaster.[vi] In July 2015, a citizens’ panel over-ruled prosecutors who declined to bring criminal charges against three TEPCO executives for failing to prevent the disaster.[vii] The citizens’ ruling will force the executives to appear in court to provide evidence, but is not expected to result in convictions because of prosecutors’ unwillingness to press charges. In August 2015 an outside panel of experts tasked with overseeing TEPCO described its culture as follows: “There is an organizational culture at the company for officials to avoid clarifying where responsibility lies and implementing planned countermeasures.”[viii]
Now, with the current trial, we see whether any semblance of justice will occur in the Japanese court system.
[i] X. Vasquez-Maignan (2011) ‘Fukushima Liability and Compensation’, Nuclear Law Bulletin, 2.88, 61-64.
[ii] Julius Weitzdörfer. 2014. Liability for Nuclear Damage Under Japanese Law: Key Legal Problems Arising from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident. In Simon Butt, Hitoshi Nasu, Luke Nottage (eds) Asia-Pacific Disaster Management: Comparative and Socio-Legal Perspectives Springer. 119-138.
[iii] Kaname Ohira and Mari Fujisaki, “Taxpayers, Electricity Users Finance TEPCO Bailout,” The Asahi Shimbun, July 31, 2012, accessed August 9, 2012, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201207310068.
[iv] TEPCO, “Financial Support from the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation,” (Press Release) December 24, 2015, http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/2015/1264851_6844.html.
[v] Panel to examine options for wrecked Fukushima plant Kyodo Sep 20, 2016 http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/09/20/business/panel-examine-options-wrecked-fukushima-plant/#.V-KppzWYLHo
[vi] “Once Again, No Indictments Against Former TEPCO Execs Over Fukushima Disaster,” The Asahi Shimbun, January 23, 2015, accessed January 24, 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201501230075.
[vii] Kentaro Hamada and Osamu Tsukimori, “Tokyo Electric Executives to Be Charged Over Fukushima Nuclear Disaster,” Reuters, July 31, 2015, accessed August 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/31/us-japan-nuclear-prosecution-idUSKCN0Q50FJ20150731.
[viii] Hiromi Kumai, “Panel Blames TEPCO’s Negligence for Delay in Information Disclosure,” The Asahi Shimbun, August 25, 2015, accessed September 4, 2015, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201508250044.