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A senior Tokyo Electric Power Co. official is suspected of having given specific orders to hide cracks found in one of the firm’s nuclear reactors when routine inspections were conducted in the 1990s, sources said Monday.

Tepco’s in-house investigation committee determined that the official, who is currently a board member, ordered those involved in the inspections not to conduct any followup inspections when cracks were found in the dividing walls of the Fukushima No. 2 plant’s No. 3 reactor core in 1997, the sources said, without naming the executive.

Inspectors and Tepco workers who were involved in the checks had found the cracks and recommended that the utility conduct an ultrasound examination to determine their depths.

“But the senior official at the headquarters gave specific instructions not to do any ultrasound examination,” one of the Tepco workers reportedly told the investigation committee, according to the sources.

Tepco, Japan’s largest power utility, was rocked by the recent revelation of coverups of structural problems at its nuclear plants. The scandal led five top Tepco executives, including the president and chairman, to announce earlier this month that they will resign from their posts. Tepco reactors have also been reportedly shut down due to reactor-related cracks.

The sources said the in-house investigative committee has so far interviewed 100 employees and about 30 of them have admitted they were involved in wrongdoing, including falsifying inspection reports.

The senior official, who was in charge of management of nuclear plants at the company’s headquarters at that time, told the committee that he does not remember exactly what he had said, the sources said.

Similar coverup instructions from management at headquarters were given several times during the period between 1998 and 2000, when structural faults were detected at nuclear plants, they said.

When cracks were found in the dividing walls of the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s No. 2 reactor core in June 1994, Tepco did not report all the cracks to the government.

The utility subsequently fixed the cracks and replaced the units between 1998 and 1999.

A whistle-blower later tipped off the government about the coverups, and the government launched an investigation. But Tepco concealed the replaced units by covering them with sheets, the sources said.

Senior management at the headquarters also appear to be behind the effort to hide the replaced units, they said.

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