An embarrassed Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted June 18 that its lax oversight led to thousands of residents evacuating to areas with high radiation levels after the nuclear disaster last year.
At issue were detailed radiation readings provided by the United States in the aftermath of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Those maps were not passed on to the appropriate officials, and NISA, a full 15 months after the reactor meltdowns was still unable to provide an adequate explanation when asked repeatedly about this.
Hours after The Asahi Shimbun broke the story of NISA's incompetence, NISA hastily called a news conference to apologize for its tardiness and explain its failure to make use of the U.S. data at a time of unprecedented national crisis.
Tetsuya Yamamoto, NISA's deputy director-general for safety examination, was given the task of setting the record straight with reporters.
"It is very regrettable that the U.S. data was not used for the sake of evacuating residents (safely) and we apologize," he said.
Yamamoto also disclosed that the United States provided detailed radiation maps on three occasions about a week after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck March 11, 2011.
The maps contained up-to-the-minute measurements taken by the U.S. Energy Department using U.S. military planes tracking radiation levels within a radius of about 45 kilometers from the Fukushima plant between March 17 and 19, 2011.
Yamamoto explained that the radiation map was passed on to a group of NISA officials handling issues related to protection from radiation that was working in the emergency response center established at NISA headquarters.
Another group there was also handling evacuation of local residents, but for some reason the radiation map was never made available to it.
It remains unclear if the members were even aware that a radiation map with U.S. data was posted on a whiteboard in the room.
The radiation protection group was mainly made up of officials from the science ministry.
It is not known if the group took note of the U.S. findings in formulating policy and making decisions.
Yamamoto explained that e-mails sent by the U.S. government on March 18 and 20 included the radiation maps. He said another e-mail sent March 23 through the Foreign Ministry also included a radiation map.
Yamamoto described the data as "very important" and said the information "should have been shared" within the Japanese government.
However, he repeatedly said there were no records at NISA of how that valuable information was put to use.
Yamamoto suggested that an appraisal of the flow of information should be undertaken by an outside party, such as one of the various commissions established by the central government and Diet to assess the official response to the disaster.
As if NISA's ineptitude was not bad enough, science ministry officials who also failed to pass on the radiation map to senior ministry officials, the prime minister's office and the Nuclear Safety Commission were trying to pass off blame to other agencies.
One official said about the radiation map, "We assumed that NISA would release the map if it concluded that some response was necessary."
However, when asked if anyone had bothered to check with NISA about whether it actually had the radiation map, the official admitted that this never happened.
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