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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Panel Challenges Japan’s Account of Nuclear Disaster

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/16/business/global/independent-panel-to-start-inquiry-into-japans-nuclear-crisis.html?_r=1

 Panel Challenges Japan’s Account of Nuclear Disaster
By HIROKO TABUCHI
Published:
January 15, 2012

TOKYO — A powerful and independent panel of specialists appointed by
Japan’s
Parliament is challenging the government’s account of the accident at a
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and will start its own investigation
into the disaster — including an inquiry into how much the March earthquake
may have damaged the plant’s reactors even before the tsunami.
   Amit Bhargava/Bloomberg News

Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who leads the inquiry, vowed that it would have no sacred
cows.

The bipartisan panel with powers of subpoena is part of Japan’s efforts to
investigate the nuclear calamity, which has displaced more than 100,000
people, rendered wide swaths of land unusable for decades and spurred
public criticism that the government has been more interested in protecting
vested industry interests than in discovering how three reactors were
allowed to melt down and release huge amounts of radiation.

Several investigations — including inquiries by the plant operator, Tokyo
Electric Power, and the government — have blamed the scale of the tsunami
that struck Japan’s northeastern coast in March, knocking out vital cooling
systems at the plant.

But critics in Japan and overseas have called for a fuller accounting of
whether Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, sufficiently considered
historically documented tsunami risks, and whether it could have done more
to minimize the damage once waves hit the plant.

Questions also linger as to the extent of damage to the plant caused by the
earthquake even before the tsunami hit. Any evidence of serious quake
damage at the plant would cast new doubt on the safety of other reactors in
quake-prone Japan. Tsunamis are far less frequent.

In his first interview since the panel was appointed last month, Kiyoshi
Kurokawa, chairman of the new Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent
Investigation Commission, said his investigation would have no sacred cows.

Mr. Kurokawa, a former leader of Tokyo University’s medical department and
a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, has
lined up a prominent team, including the Nobel laureate Koichi Tanaka. The
committee will have its first full meeting on Monday.

“For Japan to regain global credibility, we need an investigation into the
disaster that is completely independent,” Mr. Kurokawa said. He said he was
aware of questions raised about quake damage to the plant, and that the
committee “would investigate that issue vigorously.”

“The lessons Japan can learn are globally relevant, because such a disaster
can happen again,” he said.

Mr. Kurokawa’s committee has garnered attention because some members have
been openly critical of Japan’s nuclear policy, including Katsuhiko
Ishibashi, a seismologist who has long warned of the risks Japan’s volatile
geology poses to its 54 nuclear reactors.

The panel includes Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former nuclear engineer at Babcock
Hitachi who has argued that the quake was likely to have damaged reactors
at the plant to the extent that meltdowns would have occurred without the
tsunami. Tepco disputes that view. Mr. Tanaka worked on the design of the
reactors.

The panel is also the first such group of outside specialists to be named
by Japan’s Parliament, supported by members of the ruling Democratic Party
and its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party.

“If the panel can truly distance itself from political pressure, then it
could be a powerful exercise,” said Yoichi Tao, a visiting professor in
physics at Kogakuin University who has been working with Fukushima
residents to clean up the radioactive fallout. “They must make sure that
having bipartisan support does not mean they have to listen to everyone.”