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Japanese panel: Fukushima a 'man-made' disaster (+video)

The panel's report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster could fuel complaints that Japan is restarting nuclear reactors before key reforms are in place.

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Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has been pushing for the restarts, cannot have enjoyed reading the panel's account of the causes of the accident. Its report challenged TEPCO's repeated assertion that the tsunami alone had been responsible for knocking out back-up power supplies to the reactors' cooling systems. Instead, it said there was evidence that the earthquake that preceded the tsunami could also have played a role.

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"As for direct cause of the accident, the commission reached the conclusion that we cannot definitely say any devices that were important for safety were not damaged by the earthquake," the report said.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that a small-scale LOCA [loss-of-coolant accident] occurred at the reactor No. 1 in particular."

The panel said Japan's 21 oldest reactors, built before safety guidelines were introduced in 1986, could be at risk from big earthquakes.

One nuclear reactor restarts

The report was released on the same day a nuclear reactor in western Japan became the first to produce electricity since the accident.

On Thursday, reactor No. 1 at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture became the first to be restarted after passing "stress tests" introduced last year. The government approved the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactor at Oi amid warnings that, without them, a large area of western Japan, including the industrial city of Osaka, could face power shortfalls.

But some experts have said that an active fault may lie beneath the Oi plant, where another reactor is expected to start producing electricity at the end of the month.

The panel was also critical of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose "direct intervention" in the early days of the crisis had caused confusion in the chain of command and wasted valuable time.

Mr. Kan has said he was forced to intervene in the emergency response amid doubts over TEPCO and safety officials' ability to gain control of the situation.

The panel said there was no evidence, however, to support Kan's claim that TEPCO was preparing to withdraw all of its workers from the plant in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

The 10-member commission, led by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, took six months to compile the report. It presided over 900 hours of hearings and interviewed more than 1,100 people.

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