Danger from Japanese nuclear accident debated
35 plant workers exposed to radiation
March 12, 1997
Web posted at: 10:31 a.m. EST (1531 GMT)
In this story:
TOKAIMURA, Japan (CNN) -- Two fires and an explosion at a
nuclear processing plant in northeastern Japan exposed 35
workers to minimal amounts of radiation, a plant spokesman
No one was injured in the incidents, which occurred in the
same area 10 hours apart Tuesday.
Radioactivity levels remained well within safe limits around
the government-run plant, which contains no nuclear reactor,
They said exposed workers inhaled only extremely minute
quantities of radiation. All were given a clean bill of
health and sent home.
'A major accident'
Skeptics, however, were not convinced that all is well. "This
was a major accident," said nuclear expert Hideyuki Ban. "The
explosion was big one, and you can never underestimate the
effect of radiation."
There were no evacuations in Tokaimura, 100 miles (160 km)
northeast of Tokyo, which depends heavily on the plant for
jobs. But some local residents indicated they are concerned
about how the facility is operated.
"You just never know what they are doing in there. It's hard
to believe them," one man said.
Prime minister apologizes, criticizes
Nuclear spokesmen were on the defensive about why the fire
was not properly extinguished, leading to the explosion and
second fire, which endangered cleanup workers.
Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto apologized to the nation
about Japan's worst atomic accident.
He also joined environmental groups in condemning authorities
for their slowness in disclosing the extent of the accident
at the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC)
"The Japanese government just coddles the nuclear industry,"
charged Hideaki Takemura of Greenpeace-Japan. "Compared to
other countries, the preparation for nuclear accidents is
Another plant forced to shutdown in '95
This is not the first time the PNC has come under fire. In
December 1995, the forced shutdown of Japan's only
fast-breeder reactor, called Monju, after a coolant leak and
the subsequent attempt to cover-up the incident only
heightened safety concerns.
"Looking at how (the government) handled the Tokaimura
accident, it seems that officials have learned nothing from
Monju," Ban said. Although the accident at Monju did not
leak radiation, the reactor remains closed.
The Tokaimura plant is Japan's only nuclear reprocessing
facility, extracting plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.
Irradiated liquid waste, a by-product of the process, is
mixed with asphalt for storage in drums.
The facility reprocesses about 12 percent of spent nuclear
fuel from Japan's 51 running commercial nuclear power
plants, with the rest reprocessed at French plants.
Japan plans to build more nuclear plants in an attempt to
meet the country's future energy needs.
Tokyo Bureau Chief John Lewis and Reuters contributed to this report.
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