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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday for allegedly falsifying reports on problems discovered at its nuclear plants.

“A power firm should give its highest priority to ensuring the safety of nuclear plants,” Koizumi told reporters. Tepco should fully investigate the matter and take appropriate action, he said.

Earlier in the day, industry minister Takeo Hiranuma urged Tepco to take responsibility if the allegations prove to be true.

“Tepco should take seriously the fact that it betrayed the people’s confidence in nuclear power,” the economy, trade and industry minister said told reporters.

“It is absolutely abominable that this incident caused the people’s confidence to be largely lost in nuclear energy, which is a pillar of the nation’s energy policy,” Hiranuma said.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will issue an interim report in September on its investigation and a special committee will check whether the report is properly compiled, Hiranuma said.

Koji Omi, minister in charge of science and technology policy, said the Nuclear Safety Commission will also thoroughly examine the issue, while Atsuko Toyama, education, culture, sports, science and technology minister, said her ministry will look carefully into the safety at the accident-idled Monju fast-breeder and other experimental reactors.

Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa said the incident was the latest in a series of recent scandals indicating a deterioration in corporate ethics.

“I think that recently, sloppiness is spreading among companies,” Shiokawa told a news conference. “Incidents are all occurring at big companies. I think there is a deterioration of corporate morals.”

METI’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency the same day ordered electric utilities and nuclear fuel companies to conduct their own inspections of atomic plants, agency officials said.

METI also plans to examine the government’s safety check system, which is currently based on holding power utilities accountable for devices that are not considered to be related to the safety of nuclear plants, Hiranuma said.

The agency said Thursday that it has found evidence of falsified records from the late 1980s to early 1990s regarding cracks at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, and the No. 1 and No. 2 Fukushima nuclear plants in Fukushima Prefecture.

The utility has submitted a list of 29 allegedly incorrect records involving cracks or indications of cracks in various devices in the core structures of 13 reactors at the plants, after checking the devices themselves.

Hiranuma conceded the scandal would further hurt Tepco’s plan to introduce uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, a key part of the government’s nuclear fuel cycle policy. The MOX fuel plan earlier suffered severe public fallout over a data-falsification scandal that led to shipments of the contentious fuel being sent back to Britain.

“Although the problem concerns a private company . . . the largest power utility eroding the people’s trust in nuclear power can lead to distrust in the country’s energy policy,” Hiranuma reckoned.

Tepco President Nobuya Minami told reporters Thursday that the incident will deal a further blow to its MOX plan, while Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama said the same day the prefecture will reject the plan for now.

The METI nuclear agency has ordered electric utilities as well as the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. to conduct inspections at their atomic plants to make sure they have not made similar false reports.

The agency will soon conduct a spot inspection at Tepco headquarters and the three nuclear compounds in question, as part of the ongoing probe into the nation’s largest power utility and its subcontractor.

The inspection will try to discover when the falsification occurred and who was involved in the wrongdoing, it said.

Tepco had outsourced checking the devices concerned to General Electric International Inc., the Japan unit of General Electric Co. of the United States.

There is also concern that eight reactors may still have cracked components that have not been replaced or fully repaired, although the agency believes the parts would not have a serious impact on the safety of the reactors, which the agency has allowed to continue to operate, the officials said.

It may, however, order shutdowns if they find any serious problems during the inspections, they said.

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