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TEPCO's ex vice-president denies procrastinating about anti-tsunami measures

October 16, 2018



TEPCO exec denies delaying anti-tsunami steps before nuclear crisis




TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. denied Tuesday his responsibility in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, saying he did not procrastinate on taking measures against tsunami waves that flooded the nuclear power plant and caused fuel meltdowns.


In a hearing at the Tokyo District Court, Sakae Muto, 68, said he believes it was "an appropriate procedure" to reexamine a 2008 estimate of high waves made by the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, citing the low credibility of the original data used for the projection.


"I had no intention to buy time and I'm offended by the claim that I put off taking measures," said Muto, who is charged with professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries in connection with one of the world's worst nuclear crises.


Along with Muto, another former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72, and former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, were also indicted in 2016 for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the disaster.


The indictment of the three was mandated in 2015 by an independent panel of citizens after prosecutors decided against laying charges.


Earlier testimonies have revealed Muto was informed in 2008 of an estimate that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could hit the plant, but asked an engineering association to check how credible the projection was rather than immediately implementing preventive steps.


Muto told the court he thought the projected tsunami "very high" and that it came "out of the blue." The estimate based on the national long-term quake risk evaluation in 2002 was first presented to TEPCO in March 2008 by a subsidiary firm and Muto said he was briefed on that data in June that year.


He defended his move, saying, "I had no decision-making power. We were discussing how to collect information necessary for the company to formulate a policy."


"I thought the long-term evaluation was unreliable," he said, "I was not in a situation where I could decide on measures based on it."


The former executive also said he told Takekuro about the projection of the high tsunami in August 2008, although a lawyer for Takekuro said at the first hearing of the trial in June last year he has no memory of being briefed on it.


Muto offered his apology to those affected by the crisis at the outset of the court hearing, saying, "As a person involved, I deeply apologize to those who died and their families as well as those who had to evacuate."


The prosecution alleges Muto continued to operate the Fukushima plant without taking proper safety measures, while the defense argued the tsunami was unforeseeable as the state evaluation was not credible and the crisis could not have been avoided even if he had taken measures.


Public attention has been on whether the utility was able to foresee a massive tsunami and prevent the nuclear crisis. More than 300 people lined up for the 58 gallery seats at the facility's largest courtroom to listen to Muto's testimonies.


The three former executives are blamed for injuries to 13 people, including Self-Defense Forces members, resulting from hydrogen explosions at the plant, as well as the deaths of 44 people, including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital.


Takekuro and Katsunuma are scheduled to be questioned in court later in the month.


On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves triggered by a major earthquake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply. The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the No. 1, 3 and 4 units.


Following the crisis, that equaled the severity of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, some 160,000 people were at one stage evacuated and more than 40,000 of them remained displaced as of late September.


Experts and TEPCO officials are divided over the credibility of the evaluation, which covered a massive tsunami that could hit the Pacific shore, including that of Fukushima Prefecture.


Makoto Takao, a TEPCO employee who was in charge of compiling the estimate, has said many seismologists supported the evaluation given by state authorities.


But Tohoku University professor Fumihiko Imamura, who was consulted by TEPCO over the long-term evaluation, said it was something that could not be ignored but it did not prompt immediate action.


See also : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/10/16/national/ex-tepco-vp-denies-delaying-measures-tsunami-fukushima-nuclear-crisis-tokyo-court-hearing/#.W8XV2PmYSos



Ex-TEPCO exec denies being told of need for tsunami steps






A former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. refused to take any responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, testifying in court Oct. 16 that he was never made aware of the possibility of destructive tsunami striking the facility and, therefore, did not authorize countermeasures.


Sakae Muto, 68, is on trial on a charge of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, a former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, another former TEPCO vice president.


Towering tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake inundated the coastal complex, knocking out cooling systems and triggering a triple meltdown.


Muto denied in the Tokyo District Court that he and the two other top executives once gave the green light for countermeasures against a powerful tsunami three years before the disaster occurred.


“We were never notified that such a thing could happen," Muto stated.


To prove negligence, prosecutors must show that top executives could have reasonably predicted the scale of the tsunami that swamped the plant, setting off the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.


Muto’s testimony followed oral statements given in a previous court hearing by Kazuhiko Yamashita, head of TEPCO’s center tasked with compiling anti-earthquake measures.


In the statetments, Yamashita said he notified Muto, Katsumata and Takekuro in a February 2008 meeting that the height of a powerful tsunami predicted to hit the site would be at least 7.7 meters.


Yamashita’s team arrived at the figure using a simplified calculation based on the long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.


Yamashita said in his statements that he took it that the three executives understood his team’s projection was based on a government assessment and that they approved taking anti-tsunami measures.


Yamashita's statements were made to prosecutors between 2012 and 2014, when he was under investigation in connection with the nuclear disaster. The court accepted them as evidence.


A TEPCO subsidiary’s civil engineering team came up with a figure of 15.7 meters after conducting a more detailed study.


The update was conveyed to TEPCO executives in June that year. But Muto, who was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division, instructed subordinates the following month to shelve the anti-tsunami measures, according to witnesses who testified in previous hearings.


Asked about the February meeting, Muto denied that he was notified destructive tsunami could strike, or safety steps were required.


“No such topics were raised during the meeting,” he stated.


Muto also characterized the meeting that included Katsumata and Takekuro as “not one to make a decision as an organization, but one to share information.”


With regard to the projection of 15.7 meters, Muto said, “I was briefed that the (government’s) long-term assessment is not credible and thought that no new scientific expertise was available."


He also rejected suggestions that he postponed taking anti-tsunami measures.

“I simply thought it would be difficult to come up with a design for a strong sea wall straight away,” he said.


Asked whether it was possible that his division alone was empowered to halt plant operations in anticipation of encroaching danger, he emphatically denied this was so.

He said a decision of such gravity is "too weighty in terms of business management that the nuclear power and plant siting division’s decision alone cannot make it happen.”


Muto went on to state: “It would have been necessary for the division to consult with not only many divisions and sections of our company, but also other utilities and central and local governments and explain to them the grounds and the need to halt operations.”

He started his testimony by offering a “deep apology” for causing “trouble beyond description” to people affected by the nuclear disaster.


The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s reactor buildings sit on elevated land 10 meters above sea level. The tsunami spawned by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake reached 15.5 meters around the reactor buildings, according to traces left there.


Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the trio should be indicted.


(This article was written by Mikiharu Sugiura and Chikako Kawahara.)



TEPCO former exec denies tsunami accusations






A Tokyo court has begun questioning 3 former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company about their involvement in the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto were indicted by court-appointed lawyers on charges of professional negligence resulting in death. All 3 have denied the charges.

Public prosecutors decided in 2013 not to press charges against the 3. But a prosecution inquest panel of randomly selected citizens later voted to indict them. This led to mandatory indictment by the lawyers appointed by the court to act as prosecutors.

Muto took the stand first on Tuesday at the Tokyo District Court. The former vice president in charge of nuclear plant safety measures apologized at the start of his hearing.

In 2008, 3 years before the accident, Muto received an in-house report that said tsunami waves up to 15.7 meters high could hit Fukushima Daiichi, according to calculations based on the government's long-term assessment of tsunami.

More than a month later, Muto allegedly ordered the matter referred to the Japan Society of Civil Engineers for further consideration. Lawyers acting as prosecutors claim Muto put off anti-tsunami safety measures.

Muto said he was told the long-term assessment lacked credibility because experts have different opinions about it.

He said the only option was to refer the matter to civil engineering experts.

Muto added that seeking opinions of outside experts is standard procedure in making management decisions.

He strongly denied putting off countermeasures, and described the allegations as totally unthinkable.


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