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Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was 'man-made'

Workers carry out radiation screening on a bus for a media tour at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture on May 26, 2012. An independent panel investigating last year's accident at the plant blamed the disaster on collusion between the government, the facility's operator and regulators Thursday.

TOKYO, Japan — An independent panel investigating last year's accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant blamed the disaster on collusion between the government, the facility's operator and regulators.

In the most damning commentary yet on the triple meltdown at the facility on March 11, 2011, the parliament-appointed panel said authorities had failed to heed warnings about the possibility of a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in the area.

"The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties," the panel said in an English summary of the 641-page Japanese report.

"They effectively betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly 'man-made.'"

Compiled after six months of work that included 900 hours of hearings and interviews with 1,167 people, the report is far more scathing than that released by the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco).

In its account, the utility blamed the government for its poor handling of the immediate aftermath of the accident and defended the actions of Tepco officials. The firm, which faces a huge clean-up, decommissioning and compensation bill, was effectively nationalized last month when the government injected $12.5 billion in public funds.

The 10-member panel, led by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, did not pull any punches.

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Kurokawa's introduction was a sweeping vilification of cultural traits he said had ensured the disaster was "made in Japan." "What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan,'" he said.

"Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the program'; our groupism; and our insularity.

"Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same."

The panel said the nuclear industry watchdog had failed to adopt global safety standards that could have prevented the core meltdown of three of the plant's six reactors.

The accident sent huge quantities of radioactive substances into the atmosphere and forced the evacuation of about 150,000 people.

"Across the board, the Commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power," the report said. "We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety."

The panel challenged Tepco's assertion that the triple meltdown at the plant in northeast Japan had been caused solely by a towering tsunami, saying there was evidence that the magnitude-9 earthquake that preceded it could also have played a role.

"As for direct cause of the accident, the commission reached the conclusion that we cannot definitely say any devices that were important for safety were not damaged by the earthquake,'' the panel said. ''We cannot rule out the possibility that a small-scale LOCA [loss-of-coolant accident] occurred at the reactor No. 1 in particular.''

Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist who served on the panel said: "We have proved that it cannot be said that there would have been no crisis without the tsunami."

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The report was critical of Naoto Kan, prime minister at the time, whose "direct intervention" in the early days of the crisis had caused confusion in the chain of command and wasted valuable time.

Kan, who became an outspoken opponent of nuclear power during the crisis, told the panel he had decided to intervene in the emergency response because Tepco and safety officials appeared incapable of gaining control of the situation.

The parliamentary panel said there was no evidence, however, to support Kan's claim that Tepco was preparing to withdraw all of its workers from the plant in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

The report was published on the same day a nuclear reactor in western Japan became the first to produce electricity since the accident.

All of the country's 50 functioning nuclear reactors had been switched off in the wake of the accident to undergo safety checks.

The country was briefly without atomic power for the first time in more than 40 years after the last reactor went offline in early May. The No. 3 reactor at Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture is the first to be restarted after passing stress tests introduced last year.

"We have finally taken this first step," said Hideki Toyomatsu, vice president of Kansai Electric Power, which operates the Oi plant. "But it is just a first step."

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