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Japan's Nuke power sector has shoddy record

world Updated: Mar 18, 2011 00:59 IST

AP
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Behind Japan's escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.

Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalog of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.

In one case, workers hand-mixed uranium in stainless steel buckets, instead of processing by machine, so the fuel could be reused, exposing hundreds of workers to radiation. Two died.

"Everything is a secret," said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California.

In 1989 Sugaoka received an order that horrified him: edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators. Sugaoka alerted his superiors in the Tokyo Electric Power Co, but nothing happened. He decided to go public in 2000. Three Tepco executives lost their jobs.

The legacy of scandals and cover-ups over Japan's half-century reliance on nuclear power has strained its credibility with the public. That mistrust has been renewed this past week with the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. No evidence has emerged of officials hiding information in this catastrophe. But scarcity of details offered by government and news that seems to grow worse each day are fueling public anger and frustration.