Bloomberg News

New Fukushima Probe Promises to Dig Deeper Into Nuclear Crisis

January 18, 2012

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The head of Japan’s latest investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster promised to dig deeper than previous inquiries into the events that unfolded after a earthquake and tsunami struck the country in March.

A government investigation concluded last month that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant withstood the shaking of a magnitude-9 quake on March 11, before succumbing to the tsunami that followed, endorsing findings by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Three reactors had meltdowns after cooling and backup power was knocked out at the plant in the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

The new panel appointed by Japan’s parliament with subpoena powers may publicly question officials including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, its chairman, told reporters after the inquiry’s first open meeting in Tokyo. Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, said he will present his findings by June.

“The most important question the panel needs to answer is how much damage was caused by the earthquake, rather than the tsunami,” Tetsuo Ito, the head the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan, said by phone yesterday. “If the panel finds evidence the quake damaged critical functions, all of Japan’s atomic stations will need to be reviewed.”

Reactor Meltdowns

The government investigation, headed by engineering professor Yotaro Hatamura, agreed with Tokyo Electric’s findings that cooling and backup power were incapacitated by the tsunami rather than the earthquake. Hatamura criticized Japan’s Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency in his interim report, yet fell short of assigning blame to individuals.

About 160,000 people were forced to flee radiation and areas around the plant may be uninhabitable for decades, the government has said.

Kurokawa’s inquiry may also throw light on other issues left alone by Hatamura, including whether Tepco asked the government for permission to abandon the plant north of Tokyo at the height of the disaster.

The 10 members include some of the most vocal critics of the government and Tokyo Electric before and after the March 11 accident. They include seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi, who in 2007 warned of a catastrophic similar to that which unfolded at Fukushima, and Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former atomic equipment engineer and now an anti-nuclear activist.

Ishibashi yesterday clashed with Tokyo Electric Executive Vice President Masao Yamazaki, who told the panel the utility didn’t inform the public it had predicted before March 11 a tsunami may swamp the plant because the projection wasn’t based on scientific evidence.

“That’s an insult to science,” Ishibashi told Yamazaki at the public hearing in Tokyo.

--Editors: Aaron Sheldrick, Peter Langan

To contact the reporters on this story: Tsuyoshi Inajima in Tokyo at tinajima@bloomberg.net; Kanoko Matsuyama in Tokyo at kmatsuyama2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net


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