Japanese Nuclear Panel Opens Probe Amid New Radiation Estimates

Posted June 7th, 2011 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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The head of an independent panel examining the causes of Japan's nuclear crisis is calling for greater awareness of the dangers of nuclear power.

Yotaro Hatamura, a retired professor and recognized expert on human error, convened the commission in Tokyo for its first meeting Tuesday. He said nuclear power has a higher energy density than other power sources, and it is “a mistake to consider it safe.”

The meeting comes a day after Japan's nuclear regulatory agency dramatically raised its estimate of the amount of radiation released in the first week after the failure of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant.

The new estimate is more than twice as high as previous estimates. However, authorities stress that most of the radiation was blown eastward over the Pacific Ocean, not over inhabited areas.

An international team of experts organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency criticized the Japanese government last week for failing to act on a recommendation that the regulatory agency be made independent from the industry ministry.

National broadcaster NHK said Tuesday it has obtained a draft government report saying the government now plans to carry out the recommendation. The report is being prepared for submission to the IAEA at a meeting in Geneva later this month.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has also instructed the Hatamura commission to make “firm judgments” about the nuclear crisis independent from the government. The panel is expected to make a preliminary report before the end of this year and a final report by the middle of 2012.

The Fukushima nuclear plant has been leaking radiation since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out its cooling systems, leading to meltdowns in the cores of three reactors.