Japan task force kept no records of nuclear crisis response

TOKYO Tue Jan 24, 2012 5:16am EST

The crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen from bus windows in Fukushima prefecture, November 12, 2011.  REUTERS/David Guttenfelder/Pool

The crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen from bus windows in Fukushima prefecture, November 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/David Guttenfelder/Pool

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's energy minister admitted on Tuesday that no records were kept of top level discussions in the critical early days on how to respond to the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

The admission, and apology, by Trade Minister Yukio Edano comes in the face of widespread debate over the government's response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami last March.

"It is inconceivable that there were no records kept. It may have been difficult to keep official logs during the extreme confusion after the crisis, but they could have taken simple memos," said Kenji Sumita, an emeritus professor at Osaka University who specializes in nuclear engineering.

"Perhaps there were some goings on that the participants did not feel comfortable being made public," he said.

A government task force was set up by then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan to deal with the nuclear disaster. Its failure to keep records emerged after public broadcaster NHK sought details of its discussions.

NHK said it found only one-page logs that listed the agenda items discussed at each meeting.

Several panels are investigating how the government handled the crisis.

Trade Minister Edano, who was the top government spokesman when the Fukushima disaster struck and now holds the energy portfolio, apologized for the lapse and said officials would try to cobble together a record of the meetings.

"It is truly regrettable that records of the task force's meetings were not consistently kept," he told reporters.

"Given the social impact of the disaster and public interest towards it, the records should have been compiled promptly."

More than 80,000 people have been evacuated since the Fukushima plant was struck and there are still concerns about leaking radiation.

A lack of preparation and poor communication at top levels after the disaster struck were among the failures that turned the Fukushima accident into the worst atomic crisis in 25 years, one investigation panel formed by government said in an interim report last month.

Japan, in middle of its largest reconstruction effort since the end of World War Two, has said that the catastrophe at Fukushima's Daiichi plant could take four decades to clean up.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota and Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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