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Officials Connected to Fukushima Acquitted

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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Over eight years since the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, three former operating firm executives have been found not guilty of negligence in light of the incident.

The recent acquittal of Tepco officials was the result of the only criminal case to arise from the Fukushima disaster. (Fukushima is reportedly the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, and more than 165,000 people were evacuated.)

The Disaster

Before the Fukushima incident occurred, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake hit 230 miles north of Tokyo, which resulted in a wave that gathered height reportedly up to 132 feet tall by the time it hit Japan’s east coast. The tsunami crested the seawall of the Fukushima nuclear plant, and water flooded into the plant.

More than half a day after the disaster started, fuel rods in one reactor melted, eventually followed by the other two. According to CNN, Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s liability has continued to be a point of issue, though the operating firm has continued to maintain that the tsunami was a catastrophic event that would have been nearly impossible to plan for. (For scale, the earthquake was the fourth-largest in world history.)

According to CNN, the government spent more than $1.5 billion in collecting radioactive soil and earth. Prior to the disaster, the country had roughly 50 nuclear reactors generating more than 30% of its power. Though all reactors have since been shut down, nine have been reopened once they had passed certain safety inspections.

Acquittal and Clean-Up

Former Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, along with Vice Presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, were  acquitted at the trial in Tokyo’s District Court. The three were also found not responsible for the deaths of 44 elderly patients who were evacuated from hospitals at the time of the incident. The trial began in 2017.

“It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures,” said Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi.

Tepco came under fire for the delay in the announcement that the meltdown was occurring, and the company has also admitted to downplaying safety concerns. But a 2012 report indicated that safety measures implemented by both the firm and the country’s nuclear regulator were insufficient.

There were reports, however, of contaminated water leaking during cleanup and, according to the International Business Times, storage space is running out for the 1 million tons of radioactive water, which was used to cool the destroyed reactors. Customarily, water isn’t exposed to radioactive elements and can be recycled, but in this instance, the liquid is contaminated and requires special treatment and storage.

To deal with the water, Tepco used a decontamination method called an “Advanced Liquid Processing System” that can remove most radioactive elements, but is not yet able to remove tritium. One of the options is to dilute the contaminated water to the point where it’s harmless to people, and that choice manifests as dumping the water into the ocean.

Despite backlash from local fisheries, Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui is reportedly receptive to putting the water into Osaka Bay granted that the government can prove it's safe for people.


Tagged categories: AS; Asia Pacific; Disasters; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lawsuits; Nuclear Power Plants

Comment from Mark Taylor, (9/25/2019, 8:49 PM)

“It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures,” said Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi. EXACTLY, the reason not to operate them.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/27/2019, 8:22 AM)

Tepco had multiple whistleblowers warn them years in advance that their preparation for a tsunami was inadequate. There is documented historical evidence for a tsunami big enough to damage the facility. At the very least, they should have relocated their emergency generators somewhere higher than the basement.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (9/27/2019, 11:44 AM)

To Mark's comment: there are inherent risks associated with the nuclear reactors we have today and a lot of those risks stem from why we developed the particular types of reactors we did in the 1950's (i.e. to also be able to generate high-yield, weapons grade matter)..the current nuclear processes in use are more volatile and harder to keep from self-propagation / meltdown) as a result. I think we're finally getting wise to this and starting to look at the alternatives (i.e. thorium based systems) that have the potential to be cleaner and safer. Tom, I agree that there were some pretty glaring errors made, but it's human nature to be lazy and use an "off the shelf" design. You would think someone at Tepco or the Japanese nuclear safety organization would have asked / thought about tsunamis, but if you think something is big enough or strong enough (be it a ship like the Titanic or an anti-tsunami wall) you can be lulled into not considering the "what ifs" as well as you should.

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