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Ex-TEPCO execs' make final plea for acquittal over Fukushima crisis

This combined photo shows, from left, former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto, former TEPCO vice presidents. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Lawyers for three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. called for their acquittal over the Fukushima nuclear crisis that erupted in 2011 in their final defense plea on Tuesday.

The defense team said it was impossible for them to foresee the massive tsunami that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and caused core meltdowns following a massive earthquake in northeastern Japan.

A day after Japan marked the eighth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 disasters, the lawyers for Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, TEPCO chairman at the time, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, and Sakae Muto, 68, both former vice presidents, told the Tokyo District Court they "do not recognize any predictability in the disaster."

In concluding the trial, the court said it will hand down a ruling on Sept. 19.

The three men have been indicted for failing to take measures against the massive tsunami and causing the deaths of 44 hospital inpatients and injuries to 13 others during the evacuations prompted by core meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the plant.

Court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors have called for a five-year prison term for the three, claiming they could have prevented the nuclear disaster had they fulfilled their responsibilities in collecting information and taking safety measures.

TEPCO had estimated that a tsunami up to 15.7 meters could strike the southern side of the Fukushima plant based on the government's long-term evaluation of quake risks in 2002 but did not take specific safety measures before the great earthquake occurred.

The defense team argued they could not predict a tsunami hitting the eastern side of the plant based on the government evaluation and said installing coastal levees would not have prevented the disaster.

"There was no specific ground (for the evaluation), and it was not credible," a defense lawyer said of the government's long-term assessment during the last hearing.

The three were charged with professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries in 2016 by the court-appointed lawyers after an independent panel of citizens mandated indictment.

The panel's decision came after Tokyo prosecutors decided not to charge the three over the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.

A total of 37 hearings have been held since last June, during which many current and former TEPCO officials as well as earthquake and tsunami experts were questioned.

On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast was flooded by the tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.

The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the building housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units.

As a result, around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point, and more than 40,000 people remain displaced today.

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