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Family laments man's death as former TEPCO execs are indicted

As former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) face a criminal indictment over the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the family of a man who perished while fleeing the meltdown continues to mourn his passing.

Formerly a farmer, Masami Fujiyoshi, who was 97 at the time of his death, was a patient at Futaba Hospital in the town of Okuma at the time of the disaster. Five years prior, his wife had died, after which his health began to decline.

On March 12, 2011, the day after the Great East Japan Earthquake, an evacuation order was issued for a 10-kilometer radius around the Fukushima plant, which included Futaba Hospital. Two days later, Fujiyoshi and other patients at the hospital were taken by bus to the city of Minamisoma where they received radiation checks. They then were taken to a high school in the city of Iwaki, which had been designated as an evacuation shelter.

Because the group avoided areas near the power plant while traveling, it had taken over eight hours to get from Futaba Hospital to the Iwaki high school, covering a distance of over 230 kilometers. On March 15, while waiting to be transported from the high school to a medical facility, Fujiyoshi died of heart failure.

Fujiyoshi's son-in-law, Yoshikazu Oi, now 78, received the news of Fujiyoshi's death in the northern Kanto region, where he was living. He and his wife Mieko, now 77, who is Fujiyoshi's second daughter, as well as Mieko's sister, now 71, rushed to Iwaki, where they found Fujiyoshi's body at a gymnasium used as a morgue for tsunami victims. With no time to grieve, they set about arranging for a cremation. It wasn't until three years later that they were able to put Fujiyoshi's ashes in a grave in Okuma.

"(Fujiyoshi) was small but stubborn. He was good with his hands and skilled at making straw crafts. He was aiming to live to 100," says Oi.

In June 2013, a group including Mieko and her sister filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court, seeking approximately 26 million yen in compensation from TEPCO. They argued that Fujiyoshi's death was due to the evacuation, which forced him to travel long hours and distances, and prevented him from receiving proper medical care.

Oi says, "If the (nuclear) accident had not occurred, and if (Fujiyoshi) had been in the hospital, I think he would have lived longer."

Mieko, meanwhile, fell into low spirits from the psychological shock of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. She began talking less and having difficulty communicating with her family, and is now bedridden in a medical facility.

"She's lost so much weight," Oi says. "Why did this happen?"

He says that whenever he sees his wife's face, he thinks, "Our hometown is as good as gone. If we can get by without using nuclear power, that's what I want."

Now, with almost five years having passed since the triple disaster, three former TEPCO executives were indicted on Feb. 29 over the nuclear meltdown, marking the beginning of an intensive investigation into the executives' criminal liability. "My father-in-law will not come back," Oi says. Still, Oi has some hopes for the indictment, saying, "I want the three (executives) to speak openly at the trial."

Also on Feb. 29, the group that sought indictment of the executives, "Fukushima Genpatsu Kokusodan" (Fukushima nuclear plant disaster complainants' association) held a press conference in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. A representative for the group said, "(The indictment) will be great reassurance to the nuclear disaster victims, who even now face difficulties and sadness. We have faith that a fair ruling will be made on the defendants, who must accept their responsibility."

The association's leader, Ruiko Muto, 62, said, "I am very moved (by the indictment.) The victims all say 'It is wrong that no one is taking responsibility (for the nuclear disaster).' I want to watch the trial together with all the other citizens."

At around noon on the same day, lawyer Yuichi Kaido received the indictment papers from Shozaburo Ishida, an appointed lawyer who will be serving as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial. Kaido revealed that Ishida told him, "We have great evidence. I think we can get (a guilty verdict.)"

Kaido added, "The former executives had predicted (this kind of) disaster. If this is shown in court, a guilty verdict is more than possible."

Meanwhile, heads of municipalities near the crippled nuclear plant expressed their hopes that the trial will finally hold someone responsible for the disaster.

Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town of Namie, which is still entirely a no-go zone, said, "The (nuclear) accident has put the townspeople into a terrible situation. I would like TEPCO's grave responsibility to be proven in court."

Norio Kanno, mayor of the village of Iitate, said, "There is no such thing as doing too much to prevent accidents. TEPCO needs to learn that."

Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma, which is still partly under evacuation orders, said, "It will absolutely not be forgiven if, after causing so much damage, no one takes responsibility."

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