Three senior managers from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operators of the Fukushima power plant involved in 2011’s nuclear disaster, have been acquitted of professional negligence charges following a high-profile trial in Japan.

The three men - Sakae Muto, 69; Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79; and Ichiro Takekuro, 73 - were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury for failing to act on information about the risks from a major tsunami. In their defence, they argued that the data available to them at the time was unreliable. Had they been convicted, the three would have faced up to five years in prison. So far, there’s has been the only criminal trial stemming from the disaster.

The Fukushima disaster in March 2011 was the largest since Chernobyl in 1986, and whilst there were no deaths from direct radiation exposure in the immediate aftermath of the incident, there were a more than 40 deaths from other causes in the ensuing evacuation of the local population. The ex-TEPCO managers were on trial specifically in relation to the deaths of these people, who were hospitalised after having to be evacuated following the disaster.

The judge presiding over the trial said that the verdict turned on the "predictability" of the massive tsunami that swamped the nuclear plant in March 2011 after a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake. Following the acquittal, lawyers in Japan have lodged an appeal, according to a Tokyo District Court spokeswoman. An online petition demanding an appeal was launched following the acquittal ruling of last week and more than 13,500 people have signed.

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