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IAEA team finds Japan nuclear plant flaws

China Daily | Updated: 2011-06-02 08:02

TOKYO - Japan underestimated the hazard posed by the twin disaster on March 11 to nuclear plants, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday, while praising Tokyo's response to the earthquake and tsunami as "exemplary".

The UN's atomic watchdog sent an 18-member team of its own experts and specialists from 12 countries, including the United States, China, Russia and the Republic of Korea, on a fact-finding mission to Japan.

"The tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated," said the IAEA team in the preliminary report it handed to Japan's government, ahead of a full report to be presented in Vienna later this month.

"Nuclear designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and protect against the risks of all natural hazards, and should periodically update those assessments and assessment methodologies," it said.

The 14-meter wave that slammed into the plant knocked out reactor cooling systems and backup power generators, causing partial reactor meltdowns and forcing emergency crews to douse reactors with water since then.

The embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Company has said it hopes to bring the plant to a stable state of "cold shutdown", with low pressure and temperatures, some time between October and January.

The IAEA report on lessons learned from the disaster said that nuclear plants should be designed to withstand "extreme external events, particularly those with common mode implications such as extreme floods".

"Severe long-term combinations of external events should be adequately covered in design, operations, resourcing and emergency arrangements," it said.

The IAEA report summary also said that at nuclear plants "simple effective robust equipment should be available to restore essential safety functions in a timely way for severe accident conditions".

Its full version will be presented at a ministerial meeting on nuclear safety at IAEA headquarters in Vienna from June 20 to 24.

The team, which visited three nuclear plants, said Japan's government, plant operators and agencies had been "extremely open in sharing information" and "impressive and extremely well organized" in protecting the public.

"The response on the site by dedicated, determined and expert staff, under extremely arduous conditions has been exemplary and resulted in the best approach to securing safety given the exceptional circumstances," it said.

Such praise may become a temporary comfort for the tight nerve of Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who faces a no-confidence vote from the two opposition parties.

According to NHK, Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi held a meeting and made the final decision to submit the no-confidence motion by Wednesday evening.

Kan has been criticized over his disaster management and reconstruction effort, but he is refusing to resign and said on the same day that his responsibility is to stay on and help with the nuclear crisis and recovery in disaster-hit areas.

He is expected to survive the motion as groups of legislators close to Kan and former Democratic Socialists say they will oppose the no-confidence motion, emphasizing the need to hurry the reconstruction process.

But dozens of ruling party lawmakers may support it to pressure him to step down, a move that could split Kan's party and add difficulty to his pursue of the second supplementary budget for the current fiscal year.

AFP-AP-China Daily

(China Daily 06/02/2011 page12)

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