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IAEA criticizes Japan's Tepco for underestimating tsunami threat

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Unless operators can convince regulators and host communities that their facilities are safe, the country’s 54 reactors could be subject to temporary closure while safety improvements are made, severely crimping power to the country.

With only 19 reactors currently in operation in the country, experts speculate that, in a worst-case scenario, all reactors could be offline by the middle of 2012. That would deprive Japan of 30 percent of its electricity generation and result in forced power cuts over the long term.

'Constructive suggestions'

Crucially, the inspectors called for Japan’s regulatory body to be independent of the government. The current regulator is attached to a ministry that promotes the nuclear power industry.

''[The government] needs to make sure that not only are they independent in structure, but also independent in the resources, the expertise that they have available to them,” Weightman said.

Goshi Hosono, the director of the government's nuclear crisis task force, told reporters: ''The IAEA is aware that [Japanese] regulatory authorities, including the nuclear safety agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, were not necessarily in the best shape and the current government also has such a view. So I think reorganization is inevitable.”

Tempered criticism

The IAEA report produced few new revelations, and its criticism of tsunami defenses was tempered by praise for the emergency efforts to cool the three Fukushima reactors that suffered meltdowns in the hours after the disaster.

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