TEPCO Trial Turns Into War Of Words

The negligence trial of TEPCO executives continues on. In recent weeks the executives take the stand to give testimony. This has caused some interesting admissions and denials.

Lower level employees at TEPCO have taken the stand previously. Their testimony described events before the disaster as both knowing about the risk and later changing course to do nothing to protect the facilities.

The executives on trial are:
TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata
Former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro
Former Vice President Sakae Muto

The defense given by all three has been that they “could not anticipate the massive tsunami and the accident”. The trio were briefed on the potential for a severe tsunami at the Daiichi site 3 years before the 2011 disaster. Their defense will have to explain how the could claim the tsunami could not be predicted and also their knowledge of the potential from the report and meetings prior to the disaster. The initial tsunami report came from a TEPCO subsidiary based on a 2002 national quake risk evaluation. TEPCO executives were briefed on the report in June of 2008. TEPCO employee Makoto Takao was in charge of compiling the estimates, he said many seismologists agreed with the government risk estimates. The civil engineer Tohoku University professor Fumihiko Imamura, consulted by TEPCO thought the issue didn’t require any immediate action but did require some sort of longer term response to the risk. Prosecutors contend that once TEPCO’s countermeasures team realized the potential tsunami height was higher than the initial calculation they informed VP Muto. This was the point where he ordered a re-review of the data by an outside group thus delaying any effort to protect Fukushima Daiichi.

Kazuhiko Yamashita:

Kazuhiko Yamashita was in charge of earthquake countermeasures for TEPCO. He previously testified to the court via affidavit, he is not among those charged and on trial.  Yamashita stated a number of things that challenge the executives defense.

  • Yamashita initially informed the three executives in 2008 that the height of a potential tsunami that could hit Fukushima Daiichi would be at least 7.7 meters. Yamashita’s department created the estimates using calculations based on the national earthquake risk report.
  • Yamashita told the court that the three executives understood that the estimates were based on the government risk report and that they agreed to the need for countermeasures during that meeting.
  • After Yamashita’s initial estimates the TEPCO in house civil engineering department did more detailed estimates that arrived at a potential 15.7 meter tsunami that could hit the plant. The executives were informed of this increased estimate in June 2008. Other TEPCO employees that have testified said that Muto instructed them to stop working on tsunami countermeasures about a month later. Makoto Takao, a TEPCO employee who worked on the company’s seismic estimates stated that many seismologists supported the government evaluation.
  • In February 2008, when Yamashita proposed the tsunami measures in light of a long-term tsunami risk assessment during a meeting in which Katsumata and two other executives attended, the policy was accepted without opposition and was also adopted at a managing directors’ meeting the following month.
  • Another employee (not Yamashita) corroborated Yamashita’s account of events: “Based on Muto’s instructions, the team had mulled procedures on obtaining a permit to build a seawall to protect the Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to a TEPCO employee who testified at an April hearing.”
  • According to the affidavit; “TEPCO’s policy shift was the result of its “executives’ recognition that such measures require massive construction and would make it difficult for TEPCO to explain to the central government and locals that the plant was still safe, which could lead their demands for halting operations of the plant
  • “Our business environment was deteriorating because of the Niigata Chuetsu offshore earthquake of 2007 that halted the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power station, and we wanted to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 plant from stopping by all means.”
  • According to the affidavit, the three defendants including Katsumata approved countermeasures at a top-level TEPCO meeting in February 2008 after a report was presented to the meeting that an estimated wave 7.7 meters high or more could hit the Fukushima facility. But more detailed calculations showed that the potential maximum height would be 15.7 meters, and it was reported to Muto, the former vice president, that it was now estimated to cost tens of billions of yen and take more than four years to complete the countermeasures. Following this estimate, Muto decided to ask experts to re-evaluate the reliability of the 2002 government estimate, effectively shelving steps to mitigate damage from tsunami.”

Sakae Muto:

  • Muto received an in-house report in 2008 that said tsunami waves up to 15.7 meters high could hit Fukushima Daiichi.
    The in house report was based on government estimates
  • When asked in court about the potential for a destructive tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi Muto claimed “We were never notified that such a thing could happen,”
  • Asked about the initial February 2008 meeting where Yamashita explained the tsunami risk, Muto claimed the topic never came up at the meeting. Muto also claimed the meeting was for information gathering only.
  • Asked about the June 2008 meeting where the higher tsunami estimate was presented Muto claimed “I was briefed that the (government’s) long-term assessment is not credible and thought that no new scientific expertise was available.”
  • When asked about potential countermeasures Muto said “I simply thought it would be difficult to come up with a design for a strong sea wall straight away,” About a month later Muto referred the issue to members of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, prosecutors say this was an effort to put off taking any safety measures at Fukushima Daiichi.
  • Muto claimed the in house report lacked credibility because “experts have different opinions about it”.
  • Muto claims his only option was to refer the issue to the civil engineers society.
  • Muto claims this outside referral was “standard procedure”. “I had no intention to buy time and I’m offended by the claim that I put off taking measures
  • Muto told the court that he thought the projection for the tsunami was too high, and that it came “out of the blue.”
  • Muto also attempted to claim he lacked authority, “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, I was not in a situation where I could decide on measures based on it.”
  • On the issue of taking action Muto also made these statements in court:
    “too weighty in terms of business management that the nuclear power and plant siting division’s decision alone cannot make it happen.” “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.”

The Mainichi points out additional testimony given by an employee of Japan Atomic Power Company. This company operates the Tokai nuclear plant that was also his by a lesser force of the same tsunami. JAPCO acted on the 2002 government report and installed tsunami defenses at their facility. This shows that acting in a timely manner could have been done at Fukushima Daiichi. Even if such defenses at Daiichi wouldn’t have stopped the entire force of the tsunami it could have lessened the damage. Other defenses such as water tight doors and moving power systems out of lower building levels may have bought enough time to lessen the damage. Even if such defenses were unable to stop the disaster, the actions by the executives appear to show they didn’t delay them because they didn’t think they would work but because they didn’t want to take the financial hit of doing the right thing.

The other two executives will testify in future hearing dates. The trial has dragged on for months as the process appears to set testimony for different defendants and witnesses weeks or months apart.

Additional news source documents:

TEPCO former exec denies tsunami accusations

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