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Tepco admits it should have declared meltdowns at Fukushima plant much earlier via The Japan Times

Nearly five years after the nation’s worst nuclear accident, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has admitted that its staff failed to follow damage assessment guidelines, according to which they should have reported the meltdowns almost immediately.

A Tepco spokesman on Wednesday said the company’s Disaster Management Manual requires a reactor to be declared “in meltdown” if 5 percent or more of its fuel rods are determined to be “damaged.”

Tepco knew the extent of the damage early on. As of March 14, 2011, it estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies of the reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those at reactor No. 3 were “damaged,” based on the levels of radiation detected, Tepco spokesperson Yukako Handa told The Japan Times by phone.

Yet, despite widespread public skepticism at that time, the company refused to use the word “meltdown” for a period of about two months.

This led to widespread public speculation about a cover-up and failure to admit the extent of the damage. The sudden removal of a nuclear regulator spokesman fueled this.

Handa said a meltdown would have been declared if the guidelines had been followed correctly. But she said Tepco reported its estimates of damage to the government immediately — as required by law — and its failure to describe the situation as one of meltdown did not break regulations.

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