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Executives cleared over Japan nuclear disaster

A Japanese court has cleared the only people to face criminal charges as a result of the Fukushima disaster.

On Thursday (September 19), three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power were found not guilty of negligence.

Outside the court, protesters expressed outrage at the verdict:

(SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) RESIDENT OF FUKUSHIMA, KEIKO SASAKI, SAYING:

"How could the court make this ruling? We cannot understand, and cannot accept it. For the past eight and a half years, there are many people who were forced to evacuate from their home, home town and still looking for a place to live."

Their trial began more than two years ago.

The company, also known as Tepco, operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station.

A powerful earthquake and tsunami in 2011 set off meltdowns in three of the plant's six reactors.

It prompted Tokyo to shut down the country's entire fleet of nuclear reactors.

And the radiation in water, food and air led to more than 160,000 people fleeing from their homes.

All three executives have apologized for the triple meltdown.

They say, however, they could not have foreseen the disaster.

Prosecutors had said the three had access to data that anticipated the risk posed by a major tsunami.

But the judge ruled that to hold them responsible the prosecuting lawyers had to prove it was possible to predict tsunamis - and complete preventive measures in time.

Tepco says locating and removing Fukushima's melted fuel could take up to 40 years.

The company must also soon decide what to do with more than a million tons of contaminated water stored at the plant.

Japan's environment minister recently said he thought Tepco will be forced to dump the water into the Pacific Ocean as it runs out of room to store it.

The government is waiting on a report from an expert panel before making a final decision.

Japan's post-earthquake recovery efforts

Reconstruction and cultural relief projects continue in Japan following the devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation on March 11, 2011.