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Nuclear agency finds Japan underestimated tsunami danger

TOKYO — Japan underestimated the danger of tsunamis and failed to prepare adequate backup systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a team of inspectors from an international nuclear regulator said Wednesday in a critical report that came as the Japanese prime minister prepared to face a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

In its preliminary report on the nuclear crisis, which echoed earlier criticisms of Japan’s inadequate safety measures, the team from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency also called for stronger regulatory oversight. Steps should be taken, it said, to ensure that “regulatory independence and clarity of roles are preserved in all circumstances.”

This seemed to repeat a widely held criticism in Japan that collusive ties between regulators and industry led to weak oversight and a failure to ensure adequate safety levels at the plant.

The report’s strongest criticism was aimed at the failure to build adequate protection against large waves for the plant, which sits on Japan’s tsunami-prone northeastern coastline. While the plant was designed to withstand waves of about 19 feet, the tsunami was as high as 46 feet, the report said.

—Martin Fackler, The New York Times

Stocks plunge as data points
to a slower economy

Gloomy reports on jobs, manufacturing and auto sales sent stocks down by more than 2 percent Wednesday in their biggest declines since August. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes fell below 3 percent for the first time this year as investors looked for the economy to slow.

Stephen J. Carl, head equity trader at the Williams Capital Group, said the latest economic reports suggested that “the economy is running out of steam.”

News that Moody’s cut Greece’s credit rating again because of debt restructuring concerns also contributed to the drop.

All 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average fell. The index closed down 279.65 points, or 2.22 percent, at 12,290.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 30.65 points, or 2.28 percent, at 1,314.55. Both registered the worst percentage declines since August 11, 2010.

The NASDAQ composite index fell 66.11 points, or 2.33 percent, to 2,769.19.

—Christine Hauser, The New York Times

Hackers from China hit
Gmail, Google says

SAN FRANCISCO — Google said Wednesday that hundreds of users of Gmail, its email service, had been the targets of clandestine attacks apparently originating in China that were aimed at stealing their passwords and monitoring their email.

In a blog post, the company said the victims included senior government officials in the United States, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries, military personnel and journalists.

It is the second time Google has pointed to China as the source of an Internet intrusion. Its latest announcement is likely to further ratchet up the tension between the company and Chinese authorities.

Last year, Google said it had traced a sophisticated invasion of its computer systems to people based in China. The accusation led to a rupture of the company’s relationship with China and a decision by Google not to cooperate with China’s censorship demands. As a result, Google decided to base its Chinese search engine in Hong Kong.

The more recent attacks were not as technically advanced, relying on a common technique known as phishing to trick users into handing over their passwords.

—John Markoff and David Barboza, The New York Times