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A Japanese court acquitted three former Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) executives, who were charged with negligence in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns, the first criminal prosecution related to the incident that occurred more than a decade ago, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The three defendants were accused of failing to anticipate the danger of a meltdown and being unprepared for the nearly 50-foot tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 11, 2011, following an earthquake.

Three of the plant’s reactors suffered meltdowns, releasing large amounts of radiation into the surrounding communities and the sea. The incident resulted in forced evacuations and led to many residents losing their homes, jobs, as well as community ties.

But on Wednesday, Tokyo’s High Court upheld a 2019 lower court’s ruling that found the three executives not guilty. The previous court said that the massive tsunami was unforeseeable.

Meanwhile, the high court also found the defendants not guilty of causing the deaths of 44 elderly patients whose already waning health deteriorated during or after forced evacuations from a local hospital and a nursing home.

The ruling was a major blow to Fukushima residents and their supporters, the newswire said.

Wednesday’s decision comes as Japan plans to release treated wastewater from the Fukushima plant into the sea this year, sparking concerns from Pacific Island nations, Al Jazeera noted.

The Pacific Island Forum (PIF) – a regional bloc of 17 island nations – urged Japan to halt the release of more than one million tons of water, saying it could impact the fishing grounds their economies rely on.

Regional neighbors, including China and South Korea, have also criticized the plan.

The Japanese government countered that regulators have deemed the wastewater safe for release but added that it still contains traces of tritium – an isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate from water.

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