A combination picture shows former TEPCO bosses, Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto, at the Tokyo District Court for the first criminal trial over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Tokyo, June 30,2017.
A combination picture shows former TEPCO bosses, Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto, at the Tokyo District Court for the first criminal trial over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Tokyo, June 30,2017.

Three former executives from the operator of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant went on trial on Friday, the only people ever to face a criminal court in connection with the 2011 meltdowns that left swathes of countryside uninhabitable.

Ex-Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, all pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, more than six years after the worst atomic accident in a generation.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis has more.

Katsumata told the Tokyo court it was impossible for him to have directly foreseen the risk of the towering waves that pummelled Japan's northeast coast in March 2011.

"I apologise for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials," Katsumata said in a barely audible voice, as he bowed.

But "I believe I don't have a criminal responsibility in the case."

The indictments are the first and only charges stemming from the tsunami sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

The prosecutor told the court on Friday he would try to prove that the three defendants were able to foresee the risk of a huge tsunami and failed to take necessary steps to counter the risk.

The trio was present at safety meetings where experts presented the anticipated height of a tsunami occurring off the Fukushima coast, he said.

The defendants had access to data and studies pointing to the risk of a tsunami exceeding 10 metres (32 feet) in the area that could trigger power loss and severe accidents, he added.

"If they had fulfilled their responsibility to safety, the accident would have never occurred," the prosecutor said.

The charges against the three Tepco executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies