Japanese authorities on Wednesday began a criminal investigation into last year's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster [IAEA backgrounder]. The Fukushima Prosecutor accepted a criminal complaint filed in June [JURIST report] by more than 1,300 people against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) [corporate website] for causing the catastrophe and for the plaintiffs' resulting radiation. The Fukushima Nuclear-Plant Plaintiffs residential group named at least 33 individuals as defendants [Bloomberg report] in the complaint, including Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, the former president of the company, and Haruki Madarame, the chief of the Nuclear Safety Commission. The Fukushima Nuclear-Plant Plaintiffs allege that the company failed to ensure that the facility was secure against earthquakes and tsunamis despite warnings that the facility may have been at risk. Additionally the complaint accuses the company of having failed to warn the citizens of Fukushima and the surrounding prefectures about the spread of radiation during the plant's meltdown, causing avoidable delay of evacuations. The Fukushima Daiichi plant was hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011, knocking out main power for cooling reactors, and the subsequent 15-meter tsunami destroyed electrical equipment and disabled backup generators.
The meltdown is considered one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters of all time and the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan has been criticized for its handling of the crisis, and international reception to nuclear energy has fallen sharply since the incident. Last month on Japan's national holiday tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Tokyo [JURIST report] in a peaceful antinuclear demonstration against June's unilateral decision by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda [BBC profile] to restart the country's nuclear reactors, which were shut down after the Fukushima meltdown. Also last month a Japanese expert panel issued a report claiming that the Fukushima catastrophe was preventable. The 641-page document claims that the accident was not caused solely by the earthquake [JURIST report] and subsequent tsunami, but the inability of the government, regulators and TEPCO to act quickly enough to prevent the disaster. In April 2011 Tamar Cerafici of the Cerafici Law Firm discussed how the Fukushima disaster should guide US policy [JURIST op-ed]. Last August Japanese lawmakers voted to create a fund to compensate victims [JURIST report].