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Japan nuke still leaking highly contaminated water — and Tokyo Electric is still making blunders

Official: “This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven”

Highly contaminated water is escaping a damaged reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in Japan and could soon leak into the ocean, the country’s nuclear regulator warned on Monday.The discovery raises the danger of further radiation leaks at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and also poses a further setback to efforts to contain the nuclear contamination crisis as workers find themselves in increasingly hazardous conditions.

That’s the morning report from the NY Times.

But the story of the day is, “Utility behind Japan’s worst ever nucler crisis gets it wrong — again and again,” by Yuri Kageyama, a business reporter and Tokyo correspondent for the AP:

The obviously harried officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co. have repeatedly announced botched radiation readings, corrected themselves over and over and indulged in seemingly endless rounds of apologies.

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Every few days, Japan’s nuclear safety industry scolds them to “to take steps to prevent a recurrence of similar mistakes.”

The bumbling offers alarming insight into the embarrassing failure of crisis management at the nation’s top utility, which rakes in 5 trillion yen ($60 billion) in annual sales….

In the morning, Tokyo Electric Power Co. told reporters that radiation levels in contaminated water in one of the troubled reactors at the plant had surged to 10 million times the level than when the reactor is working normally.

Eight hours later, TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto bowed in apology. They had gotten it wrong, misreading a machine that analyzes water samples and mistaking one radioactive isotope for another.

The real number turned out to be 100,000 times normal “” still high, but well below their terror-inducing earlier figure that caused an immediate evacuation of workers from the reactor.

“This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven,” Chief Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano said Monday.

Earlier Monday, TEPCO was forced to apologize again for naming the wrong isotope in its correction. It had gotten their isotopes wrong not just once, but twice.

If such errors seem dizzyingly technical to most of the world, they are basics for the nuclear power industry, where mistaking two isotopes is a major error.

The AP lists more “missteps”:

“” For the first week after the tsunami, TEPCO radiation reports showed that hourly readings of airborne levels near the plant had were twice as high as recommended health levels. In fact, they had been off by one decimal point for dozens of readings for days. Radiation doses had actually exceeded the limit by 13 times.

“” When three TEPCO workers were hospitalized after wading into radioactive water, the company gave their condition only as “unknown.” Days later, the hospital and government officials reported the workers’ conditions “” but TEPCO still refused to say anything.

“” TEPCO officials said two of those workers were injured after they were issued ankle-high protective boots to walk into highly radioactive knee-high water. The company has yet to explain how that happened.

TEPCO makes Three Mile Island look like a model of transparency and competence.

By the way, it looks like this disaster is going to have a much bigger impact on the auto industry, especially Japan’s, than first realized. The AP lays this out in a Sunday story, “As Japan shutdowns drag on, auto crisis worsens”:

In the weeks ahead, car buyers will have difficulty finding the model they want in certain colors, thousands of auto plant workers will likely be told to stay home, and companies such as Toyota, Honda and others will lose billions of dollars in revenue. More than two weeks since the natural disaster, inventories of crucial car supplies — from computer chips to paint pigments — are dwindling fast as Japanese factories that make them struggle to restart.

Because parts and supplies are shipped by slow-moving boats, the real drop-off has yet to be felt by factories in the U.S., Europe and Asia. That will come by the middle of April.

“This is the biggest impact ever in the history of the automobile industry,” said Koji Endo, managing director at Advanced Research Japan in Tokyo.

Much of Japan’s auto industry — the second largest supplier of cars in the world — remains idle. Few plants were seriously damaged by the quake, but with supplies of water and electricity fleeting, no one can say when factories will crank up. Some auto analysts said it could be as late as this summer.