Tokyo’s High Court has upheld a not guilty verdict for three former executives of the company that operated the Fukushima nuclear power plant, again clearing them of professional negligence over the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The decision was announced on Wednesday following the appeal hearing at the Tokyo High Court, which ruled to uphold a not-guilty verdict by a lower court noting that a tsunami of that magnitude was unforeseeable.
The ruling cleared the defendants of professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries, Japan’s Kyodo News agency said.
The appeal sought five-year jail terms for the three former Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) executives, including former Chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, 82, and one-time executives Sakae Muto, 72, and Ichiro Takekuro, 76, on charges of negligence.
The executives were accused of failing to anticipate the massive tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on 11 March 2011, following a magnitude 9 earthquake, and of failing to take measures that might have saved the plant.
Prosecutors argued that Tepco could have prevented the disaster had the plant installed sufficient safety measures before the tsunami.
The executives have consistently maintained that predicting the tsunami was impossible and are “not guilty”.
This was the only criminal trial initiated after the Fukushima nuclear accident, which was the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Numerous Fukushima residents and their supporters who were present for the verdict or protested outside the court were disappointed and incensed by the acquittals.
Before the hearing, activists assembled at the Tokyo high court and held up posters chanting: “All found not guilty. Unjust ruling.”
The disaster led to the deaths of 44 people, including hospitalised patients in Fukushima prefecture who had to be hastily evacuated following the nuclear disaster.
Tens of thousands of people lost their homes, jobs, and links to their towns as a result of three of the plant's reactors melting down, which released enormous amounts of radiation into the sea and the nearby neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, water from the destroyed Fukushima plant continues to raise concerns after Japan announced that it will release the treated wastewater into the sea “around this spring or summer”.
Pacific Island nations have urged Japan to delay the release of wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant over fears it could contaminate fishing grounds.