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Nuclear Watchdog Says Japan Falls Short Supplying Information

United Nations atomic inspectors are struggling to get timely information from Japan about the state of the country’s failing reactors, resulting in missteps at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

“The communication still needs to be strengthened,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said late yesterday in the Austrian capital. “I am asking the Japanese counterparts to further strengthen, to facilitate communication.”

Amano, a Japanese national who was a career diplomat before taking over as head of the IAEA in 2009, is trying to obtain information from authorities in Tokyo. Japan’s government formed a task force yesterday with Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which is in charge of reporting new information.

Technicians are battling to prevent a nuclear meltdown at the plant, where radiation is leaking following an explosion yesterday. About 70 percent of the fuel rods at the plant’s No. 1 reactor and a third of the No. 2 reactor’s fuel may have been damaged, and temperatures at spent-fuel-cooling pools were rising, Tepco said.

While the IAEA is trying to analyze information out of Japan, the 20 people working around-the-clock in the agency’s emergency-response center are often unable to confirm the data, Amano said.

“Because we don’t have the full information, the ability to assess is limited,” Amano said.

The communication gap has resulted in reporting errors at the IAEA. The agency mixed up reactors over the weekend. On March 14, Amano told media that there was “no indication” of melting fuel, even after Japanese officials had reported a “high probability.”

‘Incompatible’ Rule

“The first rule of the IAEA is constant compromise with all the countries, but safety is incompatible with the art of compromise and diplomacy,” wrote Iouli Andreev in response to e-mailed questions. Andreev led the Soviet Spetsatom agency tasked with cleaning up the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. During that 1986 disaster, the “IAEA fully agreed with false information from the Politburo and Russian nuclear ministry.”

Japan is legally obliged to provide information to the IAEA under the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, an agreement developed in the wake of Chernobyl.

Because of the scope and intensity of the crisis, Japanese officials themselves may not have enough information to fulfill their obligation, said Andreas Persbo, executive director of the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA that is funded by European governments.

“In a crisis situation, the only ones that really know what is going on are at the site and they don’t have time to pick up the telephone,” Persbo said by phone from London.

A core group of 50 workers remain at the plant to manage the reactors, Tepco said. Those engineers were temporarily evacuated today when dangerous radiation levels were detected, but have now returned, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

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