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A year after tsunami, Japanese prime minister notes failures in government response

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TOKYO - Japan's prime minister acknowledged Saturday the government failed in its response to last year's earthquake and tsunami, being too slow in relaying key information and believing too much in "a myth of safety" about nuclear power.

"We can no longer make the excuse that what was unpredictable and outside our imagination has happened," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. "Crisis management requires us to imagine what may be outside our imagination."

Noda was speaking to reporters at his official residence ahead of the anniversary of the March 11 disaster that killed nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan and set off the worst nuclear crisis since Chornobyl.

Japan has learned important lessons to be better prepared for tsunami and avoid the power outages that sent several reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, he said.

The phrase "soteigai," or "outside our imagination," was used repeatedly by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that ran the plant, as the reason why it was not prepared for the giant tsunami that hit after the magnitude-9.0 quake.

Although some scholars had warned about such tsunami risks, both the utility and regulators did little and kept backup generators in basements where they could be flooded.

Japan has also drawn criticism as having been slow with information about the meltdowns and about radiation leaks into the air and the ocean.

"We can say in hindsight that the government, business and scholars had all been seeped in a myth of safety," Noda said of the oversights in the accident. "The responsibility must be shared."

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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