A Japanese district court has found all 3 former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company not guilty in the only criminal prosecution stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
The Tokyo District Court handed down the ruling on Thursday. A group of citizens that led the case to prosecution vowed to continue to seek justice.
After the accident, public prosecutors declined to indict the executives. But citizens raised their voices and a special judicial panel decided the case must go ahead. Court-appointed lawyers indicted them in 2016.
The executives are: Tsunehisa Katsumata who was the chairman of TEPCO at the time of the accident, and two former vice presidents, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto. The judge acquitted them on charges of professional negligence resulting in deaths and injury.
On March 11, 2011 a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami. The enormous waves swamped Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, knocking out power and resulting in 3 reactors melting down.
The disaster led to massive evacuations in the area. Some patients being treated at a local hospital ended up in freezing conditions.
They were moved by bus. Nurses say some died on the way. Plaintiffs say the executives are responsible for 44 deaths.
The focus of the trial had been on whether the defendants could have predicted the tsunami, and if so, whether the accident could have been prevented.
The court-appointed lawyers sought 5 year prison sentences, arguing the tsunami was predictable.
The defendants pleaded not guilty. The judge sided with the executives and said it was impossible for them to predict the massive tsunami.
TEPCO declined to comment on Thursday's ruling, but apologized to the people affected. The company says it is determined to continue to do its utmost in compensation, decommissioning and decontamination efforts.