Photo/IllutrationMembers of a support group for a criminal lawsuit on the Fukushima nuclear accident protest the ruling that acquitted three former top Tokyo Electric Power Co. executives in front of the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 19. (The Asahi Shimbun)

In the pocketbook edition of his bestseller "Donkan-ryoku" (The Power of Insensitivity), author Junichi Watanabe (1933-2014) explains that "insensitivity" in this context means the ability to act positively of one's own accord and not be swayed by what other people think.

And that, Watanabe stresses, is quite different from being unfeeling or callous, like a thick-skinned politician who remains totally unmoved even when caught in a scandal of his or her own making.

"Needless to say, such an individual is just shameless and, well, plain insensitive," he asserts.

By Watanabe's definition, the three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), who were indicted and tried in connection with the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, fall right into that category. Their indifference to safety was hard to miss.

By 2008, TEPCO had been apprised of its subsidiary's report that pointed to the possibility of an earthquake predicted by the government triggering a tsunami exceeding 15 meters in height. A recommendation was made for the construction of a seawall, but TEPCO chose to sit on it, its excuse being that the projected disaster was only theoretical.

Of course, anything is theoretical until it actually happens. But that was apparently not the understanding of the three TEPCO executives.

Or, could it be that they feigned ignorance so as not to hurt the company's bottom line?

I was hoping that the Tokyo District Court in its Sept. 19 ruling would highlight the utility's gross negligence and irresponsible management.

But that was not the outcome at all.

In acquitting the three defendants, the presiding judge explained to the effect that pre-2011 regulatory laws were "not premised upon ensuring absolute safety."

What this ruling implied was that since everyone--the state, nuclear experts, utilities and the entire nuclear power generation industry--was "insensitive" to safety at that time, it would not be appropriate to punish just the three defendants.

The argument was so clever in obfuscating the issue of responsibility, it felt like magic.

However, not everyone in the industry was totally insensitive. In fact, a witness testified that one utility did go ahead and implement tsunami countermeasures based on the government's earthquake predictions.

This testimony could have served as a compelling argument in pursuing the responsibility of the three TEPCO defendants. But the presiding judge practically dismissed it out of hand in his ruling.

I now believe that "sensitivity" should be a crucial requirement of every judge who sits on the bench.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 22

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.