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U.S./World

Japan nuke plant accident a 'profoundly man-made disaster'

| Thursday, July 5, 2012, 9:58 p.m.

TOKYO —The nuclear crisis last year at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was a “profoundly man-made disaster,” the result of poor earthquake-safety planning and faulty post-tsunami communication, according to a report from an independent parliamentary panel released on Thursday.

The sharp criticism of the Japanese government and the nuclear operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) provided an alternative narrative to an earlier investigation from Tepco, whose in-house panel concluded that the nuclear crisis was unforeseeable, spurred by a “giant tsunami beyond our imagination.” In contrast, the report released on Thursday suggested that the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that triggered the tsunami may have caused critical damage that led to the series of meltdowns.

It argued that the nuclear power plants could and should have been made more quake-proof, and blamed lax safety measures on what it called the country's powerful and “collusive” decision-makers and on a conformist culture that allowed them to operate with little scrutiny.

The nuclear bloc, while reassuring the nation about its safe atomic plants, ignored safeguards that would have helped strengthen the Fukushima facility against a massive but foreseeable earthquake, the 641-page report said.

In a blistering assessment, authors described how regulators and nuclear operators went to painstaking lengths to either ignore safety risks at the plant or cover them up. It accused Tepco and government officials of slow and faulty communication after the disaster, which, the report said hampered the emergency response.

Both regulators and nuclear operators disregarded earlier warnings from outside watchdog groups that earthquakes posed a significant safety risk to the nuclear plants, an English summary of the report said. In the process, they “effectively betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents.”

“What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan,' ” investigation Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa wrote in the introduction to the report.

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