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Reports: Lax oversight, 'greed' preceded Japan nuclear crisis

Reports suggest that greed within the worldwide nuclear industry, combined with an insufficient UN watchdog and lax oversight of Japan's nuclear plants, contributed to the Japan nuclear crisis.

By Staff writer / March 16, 2011

This photo shows the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima I) nuclear power plant reactors No. 3 (l.) and No. 4 (c.) in northern Japan on March 15.

Tokyo Electric Power Co./Reuters

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As Japan races to control a nuclear crisis in the wake of Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami, the country's sterling image – as one of the nations most prepared to prevent and manage a disaster of this magnitude – is being tarnished.

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Reports are emerging that both the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency and the Japanese government failed to properly ensure the safety of the country's nuclear power industry.

The reports are challenging the recent refrain that the world's No. 3 economy couldn't have done better and once again highlighting how poor government oversight of an industry that allegedly cut corners to turn higher profits can spawn an environmental disaster.

Just as the BP oil spill one year ago heaped scrutiny on the United State's Minerals Management Service, harshly criticized for lax drilling oversight and cozy ties with the oil industry, the nuclear crisis in Japan is shining a light on that nation's safety practices.

Design flaws in nuclear reactor containment vessels?

Four out of six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (also known as Fukushima I) have now suffered explosions or fires since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the region and knocked out electricity at the plant, which caused cooling systems to fail and reactors to suffer at least partial meltdowns.

Two of those reactor containment vessels may now have cracked and appear to be releasing radioactive steam. Their designer, General Electric, is now feeling heat for marketing the reactor despite safety concerns dating back three decades. Indeed, just as the BP oil spill drew scrutiny on several multinational companies, the crisis in Japan is underscoring a "flat world" where responsibility – along with environmental and economic fallout – spreads across oceans.

Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to clean up Chernobyl, has lashed out against the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and private corporations for failing to heed lessons from that 1986 nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine.

"After Chernobyl all the force of the nuclear industry was directed to hide this event, for not creating damage to their reputation. The Chernobyl experience was not studied properly because who has money for studying? Only industry," he told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday.

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