Tokyo: A Japanese parliamentary panel on Thursday released its report, concluding that the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant was "a profoundly man-made disaster”.
According to the report, the disaster "could and should have been foreseen and prevented".
It said the response "betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents," and was the result of collusion between the government, regulators and the utility itself that allowed lax preparation and precautions.
The 10-member panel, appointed by Parliament in December, interviewed 1,167 people in hearings exceeding 900 hours. Members also inspected Fukushima Dai-ichi, the neighboring and less-damaged Dai-ni plant, as well as two other plants in nearby prefectures.
Cultural conventions as well as reluctance to question authority are also to be blamed, said the report.
The bulky final report urged Parliament to monitor a new regulatory agency and supervise reforms in the crisis management system. It also urged the government to set clear disclosure rules about its relationship with nuclear operators, construct a cross-monitoring system and overhaul laws governing nuclear energy "to meet global standards of safety, public health and welfare".
In the meantime, nuclear power returned to Japan's energy mix today as the first reactor to be restarted since last year's earthquake and tsunami came back online, ending a nationwide shutdown that left the country without nuclear-generated electricity for the first time since 1970.
The reactor at a plant in Ohi, in western Japan, had begun generating power just ahead of the release of the final report by a parliamentary investigative commission examining the crisis that the tsunami touched off in Fukushima, which suffered meltdowns, explosions and massive radiation leaks.
After the tsunami, all of Japan's working reactors were gradually taken offline for maintenance or safety checks. The country had been without nuclear power for two months.
Officials say the situation at the Fukushima plant has stabilised, though it will take decades to safely decommission and the area around it remains off limits because it is a health hazard.
Despite rising public opposition to restarts because of the Fukushima crisis, government officials and the utility that runs the Ohi plant say the reactor has passed stringent safety checks. They argue its output is needed to ward off blackouts as Japan enters its high-demand summer months.
An interim report by the parliamentary commission had blamed Kan for trying to micromanage Fukushima's response, which it said made matters worse. It also highlighted a flawed chain of command and lax preparations as factors that worsened the crisis.
The panel has called for a binding guideline for nuclear operators to upgrade safety and crisis plans without taking into consideration their cost efficiency.
TEPCO, which has already released the results of its own internal investigation, said it found no evidence of major damage from the earthquake. It claims the unanticipated size of the tsunami was the primary cause, but acknowledges its tsunami plans were too optimistic and initial communications were problematic.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012, 11:39