Fukushima criminal case: A timeline of a nuclear disaster

Workers wear protective suits and masks work at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
Workers wear protective suits and masks work at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima.PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO

TOKYO (AFP) - On Thursday (Sept 19), a Japanese court acquitted three former officials from the company that operated the Fukushima nuclear plant, in the only criminal trial to stem from the 2011 disaster.

Here are some key developments in the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

2011

March 11: A 9.0-magnitude earthquake strikes off Japan's north-east coast, causing a massive tsunami that destroys entire towns and villages along the Pacific shore, leaving nearly 18,500 people dead or missing.

The power supply and reactor cooling systems at the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 220km north-east of Tokyo, are damaged, causing fuel inside to overheat and melt down.

The government issues evacuation orders to residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the plant. The government gradually expands the order.

March 12: Workers open a reactor vent, releasing pressure and radioactive fumes from inside.

The first of a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant rips through a building casing reactor number one, but the reactor itself remains intact.

Some 160,000 people living near the plant leave their homes.

March 16: Then-Emperor Akihito makes an emergency television address in a bid to reassure a worried public.

Dec 16: Japan says it has tamed the leaking reactors, with the declaration that they are in a state of cold shutdown.

2012

June 11: About 1,300 Fukushima residents file a criminal complaint against Tepco executives and other bodies over the accident, starting a series of legal complaints to be filed in connection with the disaster.

June 20: Tepco releases an accident report that says the tsunami's strength was beyond what could have reasonably been foreseen.

 
 
 
 

July 4: A panel of experts appointed by the Parliament concludes that the accident was "a profoundly man-made disaster - that could and should have been foreseen and prevented".

2013

Sept 7: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that the Fukushima crisis is "under control" in a speech to the International Olympic Committee.

Tokyo wins its bid to host the 2020 summer Games, as Fukushima plant crews work to keep the situation under control, including containing huge of amounts of waste water used to cool the crippled reactors. Decommissioning work is expected to take decades.

Sept 9: Prosecutors decline to press charges against three former Tepco executives and other officials, saying there is little chance of winning a conviction.

2015

July 31: A judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens rules - for the second time since the accident - rule that the three Tepco executives should be put on trial. The decision forces prosecutors to proceed with the case.

2017

March 17: A court for the first time orders the government and Tepco to pay compensation, ordering a total of 38.6 million yen (S$493,000 in today's exchange rates) be paid to residents who fled their homes after the nuclear disaster.

June 30: Three Tepco executives plead not guilty to professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

2018

Feb 8: A Tokyo court orders Tepco to pay US$10 million (S$13.7 million) in fresh damages to plaintiffs who fled their homes after the disaster, an increase over what the operator had offered in compensation.

2019

Sept 19: Tokyo district court acquitted three former executives from Tepco, in the only criminal prosecution stemming from the Fukushima disaster.