Govt failed to keep records of key nuke meetings

Japan's deputy prime minister acknowledged Friday that the government failed to take minutes of 10 meetings last year on the response to the country's disasters and nuclear crisis and called for officials to compile reports on the meetings retroactively.

The missing minutes have become a hot political debate, with opposition lawmakers saying they are necessary to provide a transparent record of the government's discussion after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami touched off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada confirmed Friday at a news conference that the minutes were not fully recorded at the time and called for them to be written up, retroactively, by the end of February. Three of the meetings during the chaotic period had no record at all, not even an agenda, including a government nuclear crisis meeting headed by the prime minister.

Okada has set up a panel to investigate the extent of the problem and its cause.

The missing minutes are the latest example of the government missteps in disclosing information.

Japanese authorities and regulators already have been repeatedly criticized for how they handled information amid the unfolding nuclear crisis. Officials initially denied that the reactors had melted down, and have been accused of playing down the health risks of exposure to radiation.

The government also kept secret a worst-case scenario that tens of millions of people, including Tokyo residents, might need to leave their homes, according to a report obtained recently by The Associated Press.

An outside panel investigating the government response to the nuclear crisis has been critical, calling for more transparency in relaying information to the public.

“Needless to say, keeping records at these meetings is extremely important,” Okada said. “Each minister should keep that in mind.”

Okada rejected speculation that the nuclear crisis meetings may have intentionally left unrecorded to avoid responsibility. He said the oversights were “unfortunate” developments during the chaotic time when the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant rapidly deteriorated and three of its reactors spiraled into meltdowns.

He said reconstruction of the minutes would be possible through notes and recordings kept by officials who attended the meetings.

Japan's public records law requires minutes or summaries at key government meetings, but not all of them.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.

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