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Tokyo (AFP) July 31, 2014
An independent legal panel on Thursday called for criminal charges to be brought against three former executives of the Fukushima nuclear plant operator for their role in the 2011 atomic disaster.
The ruling -- issued by a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens -- could ultimately pave the way for an indictment, after prosecutors announced last year that they would not pursue a criminal case.
The rare ruling means that prosecutors are now compelled to reconsider their earlier decision.
Another refusal to indict may end the possibility of charges for the former Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) managers.
But if the panel challenges prosecutors' decision a second time, a group of court-appointed lawyers would then be compelled to lay formal charges under Japanese law.
The three former executives are former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, then vice president Sakae Muto and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro.
Activists and residents who lived near the crippled plant had called on authorities to indict about three dozen company officials over their failure to take proper measures to protect the site against the tsunami, which sparked the worst atomic crisis in a generation.
Prosecutors had defended their decision not to indict by saying management could not have predicted the size of the huge tsunami, which was triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake.
The waves crashed into Fukushima and swamped cooling systems, sparking meltdowns that spewed radiation over a wide area.
"We welcome the decision by the judicial panel -- it's obvious that someone has to take responsibility for the disaster," Miwa Chiwaki, one of thousands of plaintiffs who demanded charges be laid, told AFP.
A parliamentary report has said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan's culture of "reflexive obedience", but no one has been punished criminally.
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