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IAEA: Japan underrated threat to plant

SEOUL, South Korea -- Japan did not properly protect its nuclear plants against tsunami threats before the March 11 disaster that caused radiation to spew from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, a preliminary report released yesterday by international nuclear experts concluded.

"The tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated," according to a three-page summary released by a United Nations nuclear safety team probing the aftermath of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake that triggered a nearly 50-foot-high wall of water, deluging the plant.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, facing a no-confidence vote in parliament later today, said he will consider resigning once efforts to recover from the country's disasters takes hold. "Once the post-quake reconstruction efforts are settled, I will pass on my responsibility to younger generations," he said.

The miscalculation about the tsunami hazard led to meltdowns in three of the facility's six reactors, releasing harmful radioactive isotopes into the air, soil and seawater. The emergency prompted the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, compiled by nuclear experts from a dozen nations, including the United States, France, Russia and China, blamed the tsunami for causing power outages that quickly caused the disaster to spiral out of control. Inspectors said waves believed to have reached 49 feet in height "overwhelmed" the atomic plant's defenses.

"In terms of the cause, it is clear: The direct cause was a tsunami, associated with an earthquake of tremendous size," IAEA fact-finding team leader Michael Weightman, of Britain, told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.

Although calling Japan's response to the disaster "exemplary," the report called for nuclear plant designers and operators to better coordinate safety preparations at more than a dozen atomic power plants operating nationwide.

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Investigators also urged regulatory officials to better monitor the effect that prolonged radiation exposure might have on both the public and nuclear workers at the crippled plant, located 150 miles north of Tokyo. The full report will be released later this month at an IAEA conference in Vienna.

The IAEA report summary was released one day after Japan's health ministry ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the stricken plant, to correct deficiencies in protecting facility workers from radiation exposure.

With AP

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