TOKYO Three former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives were indicted on Monday for failing to take safety measures to prevent the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011, a Tokyo District Court official said.
The indictments, forced through by a civilian judicial panel, are the first against officials at Tepco and come just before the fifth anniversary of the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear station north of Tokyo.
In accordance with Japanese law, the three were indicted by prosecutors on charges of professional negligence resulting in injury and death.
The prosecutors had not taken action against the former executives citing insufficient evidence, but a civilian judiciary panel forced the indictment when it ruled last July that they should be charged.
The three are former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and former executive vice presidents Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.
The three, who are indicted without arrest, are likely to plead not guilty and the trial is expected to start next year, local media reported. Reuters could not immediately contact the three for comment.
A Tepco spokesman said the company can not comment on their behalf because they are no longer with the company.
Japanese citizens' panels, made up of residents selected by lottery, are a rarely used but high-profile feature of Japan's legal system introduced after World War Two to curb bureaucratic overreach. They were given the power to force prosecutions if they called for them for a second time.
An earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the plant, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, sparking triple nuclear meltdowns, forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee nearby towns and contaminating water, food and air in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Michael Perry)