TOKYO -- A seismologist has testified during the trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant, that the nuclear crisis could have been prevented if proper countermeasures had been taken.
"If proper steps had been taken based on a long-term (tsunami) evaluation, the nuclear accident wouldn't have occurred," Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, told the Tokyo District Court on May 9.
Shimazaki, who played a leading role in working out the national government's long-term evaluation, appeared at the 11th hearing of the three former TEPCO executives as a witness.
Prosecutors had initially not indicted the three former TEPCO executives. However, after a prosecution inquest panel consisting of members of the public deemed twice that the three deserve prosecution, court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors indicted the three under the Act on Committee for Inquest of Prosecution.
Court-appointed attorneys insist that former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto, 67, and others postponed implementing tsunami countermeasures based on the long-term evaluation, leading to the disaster.
The government's Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion released its long-term evaluation in 2002 predicting that a massive tsunami could occur along the Japan Trench including the area off Fukushima.
In 2008, TEPCO estimated that a tsunami up to 15.7 meters high could hit the Fukushima No. 1 power station, but failed to reflect the prediction in its tsunami countermeasures at the power station.
The Cabinet Office's Central Disaster Prevention Council also did not adopt the long-term evaluation in working out its disaster prevention plan.
Shimazaki, who was a member of the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion's earthquake research panel in 2002, told the court that the Cabinet Office pressured the panel shortly before the announcement of the long-term evaluation to state that the assessment is unreliable. The headquarters ended up reporting in the long-term evaluation's introduction that there were problems with the assessment's reliability and accuracy.
In his testimony, Shimazaki pointed out that the Central Disaster Prevention Council decision not to adopt the long-term evaluation led to inappropriate tsunami countermeasures.
With regard to factors behind the council's refusal to accept the evaluation, Shimazaki stated that he can only think of consideration shown to those involved in the nuclear power industry and politics.
"If countermeasures had been in place based on the long-term evaluation, many lives would've been saved," Shimazaki told the court.
Shimazaki served as deputy chairman of the government's Nuclear Regulatory Authority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
(Japanese original by Epo Ishiyama, City News Department, and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department)