TOKYO Japan's prime minister was furious with executives at a power company at the center of the nuclear crisis for taking so long to inform his office about a blast at its stricken reactor complex, demanding "what the hell is going on?."
Kyodo news agency reported that Naoto Kan also ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on Tuesday not to pull employees out of the Fukushima plant, which was badly damaged by last week's earthquake and has been leaking radiation.
"The TV reported an explosion. But nothing was said to the premier's office for about an hour," a Kyodo reporter quoted Kan telling power company executives.
TEPCO has been struggling for days to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at several reactors at the 40-year-old Fukushima plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, where there have already been four explosions and the release of high levels of radiation, some of it being blown toward the capital.
Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato phoned Kan to tell him that "the fear and anger of residents in the prefecture are reaching the limit," Kyodo said.
The power company, Japan's biggest, has been plagued for years by scandal over its role in the nuclear industry.
In 2002, the company's president and four of his top executives were forced to resign after TEPCO was suspected of falsifying nuclear plant safety records.
A few years later it ran into trouble again over accusations of altering data.
In late 2006, the government told TEPCO to check historical data after the company reported that it had found falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988.
And in 2007, TEPCO reported that it had found more past data falsifications.
(Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by John Chalmers)