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Ex-TEPCO chairman sorry for nuke accident but says he was not in control of utility in 2011

Former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata apologized in the Tokyo District Court on Oct. 30 for the triple core meltdown that hit his company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northern Japan in March 2011.

He nevertheless explained that, as chairman, he was not in a position to control the president and other top managers of the power utility when radioactive fallout from the disaster drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The accident occurred after the plant's cooling system failed due to a power outage triggered by a massive tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake.

At the beginning of his questioning at around 11 a.m., Katsumata, bowing his head, said, "As someone who served as president and chairman, I apologize for causing enormous trouble to those who lost their lives, their bereaved families and the injured."

When asked by his lawyer about what his role was as TEPCO chairman, Katsumata explained that he had already handed authority on executing business affairs to the president. "I advised the president upon his request. My job was to take care of people outside the company and maintain contacts."

Katsumata told the court in its first hearing in June last year that it was "impossible" to foresee a nuclear accident would be triggered by a tsunami.

Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto have been indicted on charges of being responsible for the deaths of 44 patients at Futaba Hospital, near the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The victims died after they were forced to evacuate for many hours to avoid radiation spewing from the crippled power station. The three ex-TEPCO executives are accused of failing to take action to prevent the accident despite being able to foresee a massive tsunami could follow a major quake.

Earlier on Oct. 29, Takekuro was questioned at the district court before Katsumata. When a lawyer representing the victims asked him what he imagined when he heard that tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could hit the Fukushima plant, Takekuro said, "I didn't imagine much."

All three defendants pleaded not guilty at their first court hearings last year. But the lawyer acting as the prosecutor in this trial has said Katsumata was aware of the need for countermeasures to ease the impact of tsunami based on discussions inside the company.

Despite Katsumata's explanation that he didn't have the control of the company after he became chairman in 2008, a former TEPCO employee said the ex-executive continued to retain effective authority to make decisions for the utility. He told a press conference three weeks after the nuclear disaster that tsunami "countermeasures were not sufficient."

Katsumata was known to be "razor-sharp" smart as he moved up the corporate ladder in the planning section, setting the utility's course and becoming president in 2002. His predecessor had stepped down over allegedly hiding trouble at a nuclear power plant. Katsumata also served as deputy chairman of the powerful Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) business group.

(Japanese original by Masanori Makita and Naotaka Ito, City News Department, and Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department)

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