|Japan Utility Firm Faces Warning|
Story Filed: Tuesday, October 01, 2002 8:27 PM EDT
TOKYO (AP) -- Japan warned the nation's largest utility Tuesday to improve safety after the company allegedly manipulated data at its nuclear reactors, but stopped short of filing criminal charges because no clear legal violations were found.
In issuing the administrative measure to punish Tokyo Electric Power Co. in the coverup scandal involving reactor safety problems, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma told the utility to improve their safety records and prove it by meeting tougher requirements in special government inspections.
Hiranuma also demanded the company come up with preventive measures and submit them in a report to the government by the end of March, 2003.
Tuesday's government action followed investigations by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency after revelations in late August that TEPCO had been hiding structural problems in its nuclear reactors.
The warning was based on a report submitted Tuesday by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which blamed TEPCO and three regional nuclear power plant operators -- Chubu Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co. -- for failing to report defects more promptly.
The agency alleged that TEPCO manipulated data in 16 of the 29 cases where defects were found and failed to comply with government regulations. However, it did not find clear legal violations.
Last month, officials inspected the alleged facility, focusing on possible cracks in pipes that conduct water into the reactors, while searching for evidence of any attempts to hide problems.
The public has become increasingly wary of nuclear power since a 1999 radiation leak at a fuel-reprocessing plant killed two workers. But the government failure to detect coverup attempts also raised questions of the reliability of government inspections.
TEPCO admitted in late August that it had misreported safety problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s after a trade ministry report revealed 29 cases of cracks or minor structural damage in eight of the company's 17 nuclear reactors.
The company's top three officials resigned over the scandal, and authorities raided its Tokyo headquarters earlier this month. TEPCO contends the cracks never posed any serious danger.
Japan depends on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its electricity. TEPCO's plants supply nearly half of the country's nuclear energy.
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