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Panel Slams Japan Government, Power Company for Nuclear Disaster

A Greenpeace activist holds a placard during a demonstration outside Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's official residence in Tokyo, criticizing the government's declaration of cold shutdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, December 16, 2011.

An independent Japanese panel probing the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is strongly criticizing both the plant's operator and the government for mishandling the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

The assessment came Monday in an interim report released nine months after a massive earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant northeast of Tokyo. The tsunami triggered meltdowns in three reactors, which in turn spread radiation over a vast area, forced mass evacuations, contaminated groundwater and brought the agriculture sector in northern Japan to a near standstill.

The report says plant operator TEPCO itself predicted in 2008 that a tsunami larger than 10 meters high could hit the plant. But it said the utility failed to develop a plan to counter such a scenario, and the March 11 waves were much higher.

Investigators also slammed the government for delaying the release of critical information to the public - such as radiation data - and for using evasive language to avoid admitting the severity of the meltdowns.

The panel is due to release its final report about the middle of next year.