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Japan's leaders knew of reactor meltdown risk months before admitting danger, notes reveal

Japan's leaders reportedly knew hours after last year's earthquake and tsunami that the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but kept it secret for months.

China japan tsunami relief 2011 03 14Enlarge
Members of the Chinese rescue team prepare to depart to aid Japan, after the earthquake and tsunami, at the airport in Beijing on March 13, 2011. Premier Wen Jiabao expressed his "deep sympathy" to the Japanese government and people, and offered any "necessary help" to its neighbor, the foreign ministry said. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan's leaders reportedly knew hours after last year's earthquake and tsunami that the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but kept it secret for months.

That's according to the unofficial minutes of a government meeting held about four hours after the magnitude-9.0 quake on March 11 widely reported after its public release on Friday.

Agence France-Presse points out that the Japanese government also repeatedly publicly denied the risk of a meltdown at Fukushima.

The Associated Press, cited the minutes from the March 11 meeting as quoting an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last just eight hours.

He reportedly said: "If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown."

However, it was only five days into the crisis that then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears that the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo, could turn into a disaster worse than Chernobyl, the AP noted. 

AFP also cites the summary of another meeting held on March 12, when then national strategy minister, Koichiro Gemba, was quoted saying: "There is a possibility of a meltdown. Is it OK with the evacuation zone set at 10 kilometers? Is there no need to reconsider?"

And according to Reuters, notes from yet another meeting, this one held March 15 at the Nuclear Emergency Response headquarters, indicated that a "stunned" Japanese cabinet felt no one was taking charge of the crisis.

"Who is the leader of the actual operation?" it quoted Yoshihiro Katayama, internal affairs minister at the time, as asking.

"I've got too many unintelligible demands and requests. No one is holding the reins."

Meantime, according to AFP the public face of the government's response to the crisis, Yukio Edano — chief cabinet secretary at the time — repeatedly denied the notion of a meltdown for weeks after March 11.

On Friday, after the minutes were released, Edano, now minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters: "I humbly accept criticism that I could not tell you of the possibility of meltdown."

The minutes were put together from participants' memos, recordings and memories, as no official records were kept, Reuters reported.

They were released two days before the first anniversary of the disaster that left 19,000 dead or missing.

Several news outlets suggested that the revelations officials withheld information had further deepened distrust of politicians and bureaucrats in Japan.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/japan/120310/fukushima-nuclear-meltdown-tsunami-earthquake-japan-risk-ministers