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TEPCO Quizzed Over Fukushima Preparedness

A U.S. panel investigating last year's Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan has raised questions about contingency measures taken at the nuclear power plant when the March, 2011 tsunami crippled it.

Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, told the panel on Thursday that the tsunami was bigger than what the plant was designed to withstand. They also said workers on the ground were not aware that a backup cooling system had failed to kick in after power supply was cut off when the tsunami struck it, Japanese media reported.

A panel member asked why there had been no experts stationed at the plant who could advise on the emergency cooling system at the time of the accident.

A representative from a U.S. industry group of nuclear plant operators criticized safety standards in Japan. The panel member said it was vital to prepare for any eventuality, and that Japan seemed to lack this concept. The panel was set up by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The United States has introduced new measures at nuclear plants after the September 11, 2001 terror strikes on New York and Washington. It became mandatory for plants to have contingency manuals and additional backup power systems.

Cooling systems at the Fukushima nuke plant north of Tokyo was knocked out in the massive tsunami triggering meltdowns and radiation leaks. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in the worst atomic disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine. A 20-kilometer radius of the plant was declared 'no entry zone.'

Meanwhile, efforts taken by the Fukushima prefecture to convince customers of the safety of its food products have started yielding results with Thailand agreeing to import a consignment of Fukushima peaches this week. It is the first export of farm products from the prefecture to that country since the nuke accident.

Exports of farm and marine products from Fukushima prefecture have been increasing, mainly to Hong Kong and Taiwan. But several countries and territories have completely stopped food imports from Fukushima due to fears of radioactive contamination.

Fukushima has campaigned hard to stress the safety of its food products and conducted numerous radiation tests on them. Last month, the prefecture invited buyers from a department store as well as trade company officials from Thailand and showed them a peach farm and facilities to check radiation in fruit from Fukushima. As a result, about 800 peaches harvested this month will be exported to Thailand.

Fukushima farmers are happy about the development, and the prefecture says it will take further efforts to demonstrate the safety of products from Fukushima because some countries still impose restrictions on food from the area.

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