* Fukushima preventable "man-made" disaster-panel
* Panel says quake damage cannot be ruled out as a cause
* Plant operator, regulators, prime minister all to blame
* Oldest plants may also be at risk from big quake
(Adds information on risk from earthquakes)
By Risa Maeda and Linda Sieg
TOKYO, July 5 Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis
was a preventable disaster resulting from "collusion" among the
government, regulators and the plant operator, an expert panel
said on Thursday, wrapping up an inquiry into the worst nuclear
accident in 25 years.
Damage from the huge March 11, 2011, earthquake, and not
just the ensuing tsunami, could not be ruled out as a cause of
the accident, the panel added, a finding with serious potential
implications as Japan seeks to bring idled reactors on line.
The panel criticised the response of Fukushima Daiichi plant
operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, regulators and then Prime
Minister Naoto Kan, who quit last year after criticism of his
handling of a natural disaster that became a man-made crisis.
"The ... Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the
result of collusion between the government, the regulators and
Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties," the panel
said in an English summary of a 641-page Japanese document.
The report - issued hours after a reactor began supplying
electricity to the grid for the first time in two months - put
an official imprimatur on criticism of the cosy ties that have
bound a powerful nexus of interests known as the "nuclear
Regulators, it said, had been reluctant to adopt global
safety standards that could have helped prevent the disaster in
which reactors melted down, spewing radiation and forcing about
150,000 people from their homes, many of whom will never return.
"Across the board, the Commission found ignorance and
arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organisation that deals
with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a
disregard for public safety," the panel said.
The panel's finding that seismic damage may well have played
a role could affect the restart of reactors that were taken
offline, mostly for maintenance and safety checks, in the months
since Fukushima. Japan is one of the world's most quake-prone
"We have proved that it cannot be said that there would have
been no crisis without the tsunami," Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a
seismologist and panel member, said in the report.
The panel urged strict checks on all reactors against
guidelines set in 2006, and said Japan's 21 oldest reactors,
whose construction was approved before guidelines were set in
1981, may be at similar risk from a big quake as Fukushima
Experts have said that an active fault may lie under Kansai
Electric Power Co's Ohi plant in western Japan, whose No. 3 unit
began supplying electricity to the grid early on Thursday.
Ohi's No. 4 unit will come on line later this month after the
government approved the restarts to avoid a power shortage.
"This means that all of Japan's reactors are vulnerable and
require retro-fitting, calling into question the hasty decision
of the (Prime Minister Yoshihiko) Noda cabinet to restart
reactors before getting the lessons of Fukushima," said Jeffrey
Kingston, Asia studies director at Temple University in Tokyo.
The report by the experts - one of three panels looking into
the Fukushima disaster - follows a six-month investigation
involving more than 900 hours of hearings and interviews with
more than 1,100 people, the first such inquiry of its kind.
Many of the shocking details of the disaster, including
operator Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) failure to prepare
for a big tsunami and the chaotic response by the utility and
government, have already been made public.
In an effort to repair tattered public trust in the
regulatory regime, the government will in a few months set up a
more independent nuclear watchdog that will then draft new
The report pointed to numerous missed opportunities to take
steps to prevent the disaster, citing lobbying by the nuclear
power companies as well as a "safety myth" mindset that
permeated the industry and the regulatory regime as among the
reasons for the failure to be prepared.
Resource-poor Japan has for decades promoted nuclear power
as safe, cheap and clean. Atomic energy supplied nearly 30
percent of electricity needs before the disaster.
"As a result of inadequate oversight, the SA (Severe
Accident) countermeasures implemented in Japan were practically
ineffective compared to the countermeasures in place abroad, and
actions were significantly delayed as a result," it said.
Tepco came under heavy criticism in the report, partly for
putting cost-cutting steps ahead of safety as nuclear power
became less profitable over the years. "While giving lip service
to a policy of 'safety first', in actuality, safety suffered at
the expense of other management priorities," the team said.
In a report on its internal investigation issued last month,
Tepco denied responsibility, saying the big "unforeseen" tsunami
was to blame - though it admitted that in hindsight it was
Tepco, struggling under huge costs for compensation, cleanup
and decommissioning, was effectively nationalised last month
with a 1 trillion yen ($12.53 billion) injection of public
The panel also said it had found no evidence to back up
Kan's allegation that Tepco had planned to abandon the
tsunami-ravaged plant as the crisis risked spinning out of
But fans of Kan, a former civic activist who angered the
powerful nuclear industry when he became a harsh critic of
atomic power after the disaster, questioned that finding.
"I think the crisis would have been far worse if Kan hadn't
intervened," Temple University's Kingston said.
($1 = 79.7950 yen)
(Editing by Robert Birsel)