A Japanese district court has found all three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company not guilty in the only criminal prosecution stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
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 judges acquitted them on charges of professional negligence resulting in death 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 three 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. The prosecution says 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 prosecution sought 5-year prison sentences, arguing the tsunami was predictable.
The defendants pleaded not guilty. The court sided with the executives and said it was impossible for them to predict the massive tsunami.
The ruling angered Masakatsu Kanno whose father died after he was forced to evacuate from a hospital near the plant.
He said, "There's no doubt that it was Tokyo Electric Power Company that caused the accident. Everybody knows it. Today's ruling is totally unacceptable."
The prosecution says they will consider whether to appeal the ruling.
Lawyer for the prosecution, Shozaburo Ishida, said, "The decision takes the government's nuclear policy into consideration. The ruling says absolute safety is not a requirement. That's unthinkable. If you believe that a nuclear accident should never happen, you wouldn't hand down this sort of ruling."
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.