Japan nuclear disaster concept

Tepco executives held responsible for Fukushima disaster by Japanese court

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Four former Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) executives have been ordered by a court to pay a $94.8bn (£80bn) fine over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

A Japanese court has found four former executives from the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant responsible for the 2011 nuclear disaster. 

The senior managers were sued by shareholders of the nuclear power plant that was hit by a tsunami in 2011, a natural disaster that caused the deaths of 18,000 people and wiped entire towns off the map.

According to the shareholders, the disaster could have been prevented had Tepco bosses exercised due care and carried out preventative measures such as placing an emergency power source on higher ground. The 2012 civil lawsuit demanded that five former Tepco executives pay the beleaguered company 22 trillion yen in compensation for ignoring warnings of a possible tsunami. 

The case was decided yesterday (Tuesday July 12) by a Tokyo court, which ordered the executives to pay a fine of around 13 trillion yen (£80bn) in damages, according to local media. 

"Warnings have to be issued that, if you make wrong decisions or do wrong, you must compensate with your own money," Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing shareholders, told a press conference in 2012. "In Japan, nothing can be resolved and no progress can be made without assigning personal responsibility."

During the trial, officials had argued that the risks could not have been predicted.

In a statement read to Agence France-Presse (AFP) by a Tepco spokesman, the firm said: "We again express our heartfelt apology to people in Fukushima and members of the society broadly for causing trouble and worry" regarding the disaster, but refused to comment on the ruling or stating whether they would appeal the court's decision. 

This is the first judicial decision that has found executives responsible for the nuclear disaster

Tepco has been pursued in the courts by survivors of the disaster as well as shareholders and six plaintiffs this year took the firm to court over claims they developed thyroid cancer because of radiation exposure. In 2019, a court acquitted three former Tepco officials in the only criminal trial to stem from the disaster.

At the time, the court ruled that the managers could not have predicted the scale of the tsunami that triggered the disaster.

In March 2011, a large undersea quake off the coast of Japan triggered a massive tsunami. At the time, three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were in operation. When the huge waves flooded the backup generators, the cooling systems failed, causing the reactors to go into meltdown.  

Although there were reported deaths or cases of radiation sickness directly caused by the nuclear accident, over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes as a preventative measure and many have not returned. Seven years after the disaster, a Greenpeace report found that radiation levels in the area continued to be up to 100 times higher than normal.

The Fukushima meltdown was considered the worst nuclear disaster since that at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April 1986 and prompted the declaration of a 30km evacuation zone around the Japanese plant. Tepco is currently engaged in a decades-long effort to decommission the plant.

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