Japanese prosecutors must decide this week whether to charge Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) executives for their handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, in a process that could drag the operator of the stricken nuclear plant into criminal court.
The judicial review is unlikely to see TEPCO executives go to jail, legal experts say, but rehashing details of the meltdowns and explosions that followed an earthquake and tsunami will cast a harsh light on the struggling utility and will not help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unpopular effort to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors.
The Tokyo’s District Prosecutors Office last year declined to charge more than 30 TEPCO and government officials after investigating a criminal complaint from residents, who said officials ignored the risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant from natural disasters and failed to respond appropriately when crisis struck.
But a special citizens’ panel opened another legal front in July, asking prosecutors to consider charges of criminal negligence against three executives over their handling of the nuclear disaster.
Under the review system, the prosecutors must respond by Thursday.
If they again decline to take up the case, as some experts expect, the 11-member panel of unidentified citizens can order prosecutors to indict, if eight members vote in favor.