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Japan faulted for response to nuclear crisis

Japan's response to the nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami was confused and riddled with problems, including an erroneous assumption that an emergency cooling system was working and a delay in disclosing dangerous radiation leaks, a report revealed Monday.

The disturbing picture of harried and bumbling workers and government officials scrambling to respond to the problems at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was outlined in the report based on a government investigation.

The interim report, compiled by interviewing more than 400 people, including utility workers and government officials, found authorities had grossly underestimated tsunami risks after the earthquake, assuming the highest wave would be 20 feet when it ended up at more than double that level.

The report criticized the authorities' use of the term "soteigai," meaning "outside our imagination," which it said implied they were shirking responsibility for what had happened. It said by labeling the events as beyond what could have been expected, officials had invited public distrust.

"This accident has taught us an important lesson on how we must be ready for soteigai," it said.

The report, set to be completed by mid-2012, found that workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that ran Fukushima Dai-ichi, were untrained to handle emergencies like the power shutdown that struck when the tsunami destroyed backup generators -- setting off the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

There was no clear manual to follow, and the workers failed to communicate, not only with the government but also among themselves, it said.

Finding alternative ways to deliver water to the reactors was delayed for hours because of the mishandling of an emergency cooling system, the report said. Workers assumed the system was working, despite several warning signs it had failed and was sending the nuclear core into meltdown.

The report acknowledged that even if the cooling system had kicked in properly, the tsunami damage may have been so great that meltdowns would have happened anyway.

But a better response might have reduced the core damage, radiation leaks and the hydrogen explosions that followed at two reactors and sent radiation into the air, the report said.

The report criticized the government delay in relaying information to the public and its use of evasive language to avoid admitting serious meltdowns at the reactors.

The government also delayed disclosure of radiation data in the area, unnecessarily exposing entire towns to radiation when they could have evacuated, the report found.

The report recommended changes so utilities will respond properly to serious accidents. One recommendation was separating the nuclear regulators from the unit that promotes atomic energy.

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