Photo/IllutrationLawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19. (Takuya Tanabe)

Lawyers appealed a court ruling that absolved three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. of criminal responsibility for the 2011 nuclear disaster, saying the acquittals deny justice for the victims.

The appeal of the Tokyo District Court’s ruling was submitted to the Tokyo High Court on Sept. 30.

The lawyers, who are serving as prosecutors in the case, said in the appeal, “The ruling not only evaded judgment on the defendants’ important duties and responsibilities to prevent foreseeable damage (to the nuclear plant), but it even denied the possibility that they could foresee the disaster.

“To allow the ruling to be finalized at this stage would significantly go against justice,” their statement said.

Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, a former TEPCO chairman, Ichiro Takekuro, 73, a former vice president, and Sakae Muto, 69, also a former vice president, received mandatory indictments on charges of criminal negligence resulting in deaths and injuries related to the disaster at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The prosecution side had sought five-year prison sentences for the three, arguing that they failed to take action to prevent the accident despite government forecasts that a tsunami exceeding the roughly 10-meter height of the main plant facilities could overwhelm the site.

However, the Tokyo District Court ruled on Sept 19 that the forecasts were unreliable and that the three defendants could not have foreseen a tsunami of that size hitting the nuclear plant.

The ruling said the only way to prevent the accident would have been to shut down the plant well before the disaster struck. The court said it would be difficult to rule that the defendants had a legal responsibility to take such a measure, given the usefulness of nuclear plants in supporting the economy and people’s lives.

The deaths and injuries cited in the indictments occurred during the evacuation of areas near the crippled plant. Forty-four patients who were at Futaba Hospital about 4.5 kilometers from the plant died of malnutrition and dehydration during the evacuation process or later at emergency shelters.

Representatives of nuclear accident victims said they gathered about 14,300 signatures through the Internet and other means for a petition in support of the appeal.

“We want to support the lawyers (who serve as prosecutors) with our full effort and fight for the appeal process,” a representative said Sept. 30.

TEPCO has declined to comment on the appeal.

Tokyo prosecutors had decided not to indict the former executives, citing a lack of evidence. Their decision was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that the three former TEPCO executives must stand trial.