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Tepco Misleading Public Over Nuclear Crisis, Institute Says

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Tepco Misleading Public Over Nuclear Crisis, Institute Says
Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Source: Air Photo Service via Bloomberg

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. has made misleading statements about when it will stabilize its nuclear reactors crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, said Tetsuo Ito, head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan.

The company, known as Tepco, yesterday reiterated the schedule on its so-called road map announced a month ago to achieve cold shutdown of the three radiation-leaking reactors as early as October. Setting a timetable without knowing the condition of the reactor cores doesn’t make sense, Ito said in a phone interview from Osaka.

“Only after understanding what’s going on inside the buildings and reactors, will it be clear what parts of the timetable are achievable,” Ito said. “Devising a road map without that will give the public a false sense of security.”

On May 15, or more than two months after the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, Tepco said conditions were worse than expected in reactor No. 1 when it found all uranium fuel rods had melted. Today it sent four workers into reactor No. 2 for the first time since March 14 to measure radiation levels and assess whether work can be done to fix gauges that will show the condition of the core.

“It’s highly likely No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are worse than thought,” Ito said. “Tepco devised the first (road map) before fully grasping the situation inside the reactor buildings; a scientist wouldn’t do such a thing.”

Ito has headed the institute, which started running Japan’s first university-based nuclear reactor in 1961, for more than five years. He has spent 35 years in nuclear engineering research.

Targets Achievable

Tepco officials believe the targets remain achievable, spokeswoman Ryoko Sakai said by phone today. She declined to comment on Ito’s other remarks.

When asked whether Tepco has sought the advice of nuclear engineering academics, Vice President Sakae Muto said yesterday the company has talked to experts, nuclear companies and government bodies around the world.

Tepco has also been criticized by government officials for responding too slowly to the crisis that unfolded at Fukushima after the tsunami washed ashore.

The utility plans to build self-circulating cooling systems in reactor buildings damaged by explosions after the earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and pumping equipment to cool fuel rods and spent pools.

This is to achieve a cold shutdown, where the core temperature in the three damaged reactors falls to below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

Forced Evacuations

Beside radiation leaks into the atmosphere forcing about 50,000 families near the plant to evacuate, more than 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of contaminated water have leaked or been released into the sea.

Millions of liters of radiated water have also filled basements and trenches at the station from leaking reactor vessels and piping.

Since the accident, Tepco shares have lost 82 percent of their value. They traded at 392 yen at 2:32 p.m. in Tokyo today compared with 2,153 yen on March 10.

Japan’s government in April raised the severity rating of the Fukushima crisis to the highest on an international scale, the same level as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The station, which has withstood hundreds of aftershocks, may release more contamination than Chernobyl before the crisis is contained, Tepco officials have said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tsuyoshi Inajima in Tokyo at tinajima@bloomberg.net; Yuji Okada in Tokyo at yokada6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Langan at plangan@bloomberg.net

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