Criminal charges sought against PNC, officials

The Science and Technology Agency has asked police to take criminal action against Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. and some PNC officers over a series of accidents and ensuing coverup attempts at its atomic facilities, agency chief Riichiro Chikaoka said April 16.

This is the first such agency action taken on the basis of a law governing reactors, and it is considered quite unusual for a government agency to seek criminal action against a special public corporation under its own jurisdiction. Chikaoka declined to disclose the number and names of PNC officers against whom the agency is seeking criminal action, citing the need for a confidential investigation.

He told reporters the agency considers the stern action necessary because the matter concerns the country’s nuclear administration as well as overall energy policy. In talks earlier in the day with Shoichiro Toyoda, president of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), and other business leaders, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto confided that the government was seriously contemplating a means to reform PNC because questionable reporting of recent nuclear accidents has serious implications on public opinion.

Asked by reporters about a proposal to privatize PNC, Hashimoto said such a move would be dangerous.

On the same day, PNC announced disciplinary steps against officers responsible for the false reports about accidents at its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, and other facilities. According to the Science and Technology Agency, the PNC officers to be investigated are suspected of having falsely reported that a fire at its Tokai bituminization facility was extinguished, even though it touched off an explosion 10 hours later. To cover up the false report, the accused officers pressured contracting company workers to testify that they actually witnessed the fire dying out, agency sources alleged.