Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Panel Questions Japan's Account of Nuclear Disaster

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Panel Questions Japan's Account of Nuclear Disaster

Article excerpt

The chairman of the independent investigation committee vowed that his inquiry would have no sacred cows.

A powerful and independent panel of specialists appointed by the Japanese Parliament is challenging the government's account of the accident at the 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.

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 provoked 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 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, Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the new Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said his inquiry would have no sacred cows. …

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