Itsuo Inouye, Associated Press
Protesters shout slogans during an anti-nuclear plant rally in front of the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo, Friday, June 8, 2012 shortly after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Japan must restart two nuclear reactors to protect the economy and people's livelihoods in a news conference. Noda said in the news conference broadcast live to the nation that the government has taken ample measures to ensure the safety of the two reactors at the Ohi nuclear plant in western Japan. The banners read "We strongly oppose restarting of the Ohi nuclear plant."

TOKYO — A panel investigating Japan's nuclear disaster said Saturday that the ex-prime minister and his aides caused confusion at the height of last year's crisis by heavily interfering in the damaged and leaking plant's operation.

Shuya Nomura, a member of the parliamentary panel, said that Naoto Kan's aides made numerous calls to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, often asking basic questions and distracting workers, thus causing more confusion.

They did not follow the official line of communication — through the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency — under the country's nuclear disaster management law, he said.

"They asked questions that were often inappropriate and very basic, unnecessarily causing more work in addition to the operation at the site," he said.

During the crisis, Kan and his ministers said that the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., hardly provided any information as workers desperately tried to prevent the reactors exploding, forcing them to go out of their way and ask.

The panel, which has power to issue subpoenas, also revealed Saturday that TEPCO considered evacuating all but 10 workers, but Kan ordered them to keep working. There were about 700 workers from TEPCO and its affiliate companies when the March 11 earthquake struck the plant, destroying its power and cooling system and triggering meltdowns at three reactors. About 70 workers eventually managed to bring the plant under control.

The panel also criticized Kan and his government for not releasing radiation data and other critical information, thereby causing unnecessary exposures and creating widespread distrust of the government.

The panel will release a full report later in June.