4 Février 2013
February 4, 2013
Prosecutors investigating responsibility for the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster have seized testimony from the plant's former chief, who cannot currently be questioned due to poor health.
Prosecutors obtained records documented by a government disaster investigation team, apparently judging them necessary in deciding whether they can form a criminal case against the former chief, Masao Yoshida. Normally, disaster investigations are performed on the basis that they won't be used to lay blame on the parties involved.
Government sources said the investigation team began questioning Yoshida around five months after the onset of the nuclear disaster. He faced dozens of hours of questioning, spread out over several sessions. The team released an accident report based on the questioning in July 2012.
That report states that in 2008, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima nuclear plant, estimated the damage that would result from tsunamis measuring up to 15.7 meters in height -- much higher than they had calculated before. At the time, Yoshida was head of a nuclear plant equipment management division at TEPCO and was in a position to evaluate safety measures at the Fukushima plant. However, he reportedly put off taking measures on the grounds that a 15.7-meter tsunami was only a worst-case scenario and wouldn't come.
Prosecutors began investigating TEPCO in the summer of 2012, on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injury and death. In order to form a case, prosecutors need to determine whether officials could have predicted a complete loss of power at the plant from a tsunami. They sought to question Yoshida to learn more about TEPCO's safety measures in 2008. However, according to TEPCO sources, Yoshida, who has been reported as having esophageal cancer and having suffered a stroke, is in worse shape now than when he was questioned by the government team, and it would be almost impossible to question him.
Prosecutors apparently obtained records of Yoshida's testimony to shed light on his assessments, as he was a key person involved with pre-disaster safety measures as well as the on-site response to the disaster.
In the past, prosecutors' use of accident-probe data has stirred controversy. After a Japan Airlines flight in 1997 made abrupt flight-path changes that led to one death and injured 13, prosecutors sought and were granted the use of an accident-probe report as evidence against the flight captain, who was charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury. The captain's defense team objected, saying the probe had been conducted to prevent future accidents, and shouldn't be used to blame anyone.
In the nuclear disaster case, the head of the government's accident investigation team, Yotaro Hatamura, stressed that the team was not seeking to place blame on anyone. A prosecution source commented that prosecutors probably "kept the scale (of the seizure of information) within reasonable bounds," because Yoshida and other TEPCO officials questioned by the team were not told that they had the right to remain silent, and because the recorded testimony had been kept private.
Tokai University law professor Yoshihiko Ikeda, who is familiar with the legal aspects of professional negligence, says, "The global trend is to place more emphasis on uncovering the causes of disasters (rather than pursuing blame). The government should quickly make relevant rules for disaster probes that also take punishment for negligence into account."
Prosecutors have seized records of a government panel’s interviews with Masao Yoshida, the former manager of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant, as part of their criminal probe into Japan’s worst atomic plant disaster, sources said Monday.
The seizure was initiated because Yoshida cannot present himself for long interviews with the prosecution because of an illness, the sources said.
The action is unusual in that the records of the interviews conducted to shed light on the disaster, instead of an actual witness, will be used in the criminal investigation.
Yoshida dealt with the crisis until he resigned in December 2011 due to esophageal cancer.
He is among the parties accused of negligence for failing to ensure the six-reactor nuclear plant could withstand a major temblor and monster tsunami, and for failing to respond to the crisis in an appropriate manner.
Yoshida was in charge of Fukushima No. 1′s tsunami preparedness as head of Tepco’s Nuclear Asset Management Department in 2008, when the utility compiled an estimate that the complex was at risk of being hit by 15-meter-plus tsunami.
A team recently determined that radioactive cesium distribution varied from organ to organ in cattle abandoned in the 20-km-radius hot zone around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which suffered three reactor core meltdowns in March 2011.
The density of radioactive cesium released from the plant was highest in muscle tissue but lower in thyroid glands, said the team, which was led by professor Manabu Fukumoto of Tohoku University’s Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer.