TOKYO, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- The response by utility and Japanese government officials to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant catastrophe was disastrous, an investigative panel said Monday.
The government-appointed panel, citing instances from inspectors abandoning the nuclear facility to a delay in disclosing radiation leaks, said in its interim report the problems worsened the situation as events unfolded at the nuclear facility after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami took the entire site offline, The New York Times reported.
Three of the plant's six reactors overheated and experienced fuel meltdowns, and hydrogen explosions knocked off the tops off three reactor buildings, leading to a massive leak of radiation in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The panel criticized plant and government officials for using the term "soteigai," or "unforeseen," to describe the scale of the disaster and explain why they couldn't adequately respond.
"There was a lot of talk of soteigai, but that only bred perceptions among the public that officials were shirking their responsibilities," panel head Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus in engineering at the University of Tokyo, said in the report.
In the interim report, authorities significantly underestimated the risk tsunamis pose to the plant, echoing charges by nuclear critics and recognized by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The report criticized the government for failing to use radiation data to predict movement of radioactive plumes to warn area residents and direct evacuations, exposing entire communities to harmful radiation.
"Authorities failed to think of the disaster response from the perspective of victims," Hatamura said.
The interim report, however, limited recommendations to suggesting that a faster response may have mitigated core damage and lowered the radiation release, the Times said.
"The aim of this panel is not to demand responsibility," Hatamura said.
A final report is expected by mid-2012.