|The panel said its aim was not to apportion blame for the disaster, but to learn why the accident happened [EPA]
Japan's response to the nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 tsunami was confused and riddled with problems, and workers were untrained to handle emergencies, an interim report has revealed.
The operators of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and government regulators were woefully unprepared for the disaster, the first official probe into the twin disasters said on Monday.
An independent panel set up to investigate the events around the world's worst nuclear accident in a generation said Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], the utility that ran Fukushima plant, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had failed to think beyond the risks for which the nuclear plant was designed.
The Daiichi plant, 240km northeast of Tokyo, was hit by a tsunami that exceeded 15m in some areas. The tsunami knocked out the plant's cooling systems, resulting in meltdowns of nuclear fuel.
The panel's interim report sharply contrasted with Tepco's own probe, which said the utility could have had no way to prepare for the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and giant waves that sparked meltdowns and explosions at the plant.
The 500-page document, based on interviews with more than 400 people involved in the accident, comes nine months after the crisis forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people as radiation leaked into the air, sea and food chain.
Learn from mistakes
The panel said its aim was not to apportion blame for the disaster, but to learn why the accident happened in the way it did.
The report also noted that Tepco did not have enough expertise on the ground after the disaster struck, saying it made mistakes like misunderstanding the functioning status of the No1 reactor's cooling system and mishandling the No3 reactor's cooling system.
The 12-member panel, set up in May on the initiative of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, will release a final report next year. The panel includes seismologists, former diplomats and judges.
The government announced on December 16 that reactors at the plant had reached a state of cold shutdown, a milestone in cleanup efforts and a pre-condition for allowing about 80,000 residents evacuated from a 20km radius of the Daiichi plant.
But a public poll by the Nikkei newspaper on Monday showed that 78 per cent of those surveyed did not agree with the government's decision to declare a cold shutdown.
Critics say the cold shutdown declaration was premature since the aftermath of the Fukushima accident is far from over.