08/02/2012, 00.00
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Class action by 1,300 residents opens doors for prosecution in Fukushima disaster case

Prosecutors take aim at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), including its ex chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata. Human errors and negligence by company executives and safety officials are under examination. More than 30 individuals are being investigated. Company has not yet released a public statement.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Prosecutors in Fukushima began a criminal investigation into last year's nuclear-plant accident after more than 1,300 residents filed a complaint against executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), including former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata. The Fukushima City prosecutor yesterday accepted the complaint and will start a probe to determine whether there was professional negligence in Japan's worst civil nuclear-plant accident, which occurred on 11 March 2011, resulting in bodily injury by radiation exposure and the death of hospital inpatients during transfer between hospitals.

Tepco said that prosecutors had not informed them that a complaint against former executives had been accepted. "We can't comment on this because we don't know the complaint's content," a spokesman for the utility said.

However, prosecutors are taking up the case after independent investigation reports were completed. One commissioned by the Japanese diet (parliament) was published in July. It said that the direct causes of the disaster were foreseeable, "man-made" failures.

Tepco, regulators and the ministry of economy trade and industry overseeing the industry failed to develop basic safety requirements, the report found.

Another independent study by the University of Tokyo echoed the findings of the aforementioned report, noting errors and omissions by plant managers and safety officials.

After accepting the class action, prosecutors are now required to begin an investigation. However, if they decide to drop the case, lawyers for the plaintiffs said they would appeal.

At least 33 individuals are now under investigation, including former Tepco president Masataka Shimizu, who mistakenly said that a disaster of such magnitude was not foreseeable.

The 9.0 earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami that generated 40-metre waves, resulted in the death of 15,850 people. An additional 6,011 were injured, and 3,287 are still missing. Overall, 800,000 buildings were destroyed. In many areas, fires broke out, roadways and railway tracks were damaged and some dams collapsed.

Four million families in north-eastern Japan were left without power and one million without water.

According to an estimate by the World Bank, the bill for the disaster should reach US$ 235 billion.

Although located 250 kilometres from Fukushima, the epicentre of the quake, Tokyo saw 30 buildings destroyed and 1,046 damaged.

Between 11 March and 8 June 2011, about a thousand aftershocks were recorded, six at least of a 6.0 magnitude and three at 7.0 or higher.

In the prefectures affected by the tsunami, more than 340,000 people still live in containers and prefab housing.

In the 20-kilometre security ring around the nuclear power plant, an additional 160,000 people live in shelters or with friends and family, waiting for the compensation Tepco promised a year ago.

Reconstruction costs are estimated at 10 trillion yen (US$ 125 billion), not only in relation to housing and public facilities, but also energy sources.

It will take about 40 years to clear the area and residents fear for the future because they are barely making ends meet with the government assistance.

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