The Science and Technology Agency informed the International Atomic Energy Agency early Thursday that the exterior of the roof of the uranium-processing plant where Japan’s worst nuclear accident occurred last week is not damaged, agency officials said.

In its report to the atomic organization, which had asked for details of the extent of the damage, the agency attached a photograph of the accident site taken after the disaster, they said.

The move came in response to IAEA requests for formal confirmation that the building was not badly damaged after foreign media reports said that there had been “an explosion” at the plant, the officials said.

“While there may be some cracks, since we have not been able to enter the site, the plant does not appear to be destroyed from the outside,” the agency told the IAEA. It added that it was not sure how much radiation may have escaped from the building.

The agency, however, is having difficulty allaying public fears over the accident as revelations about Japan’s lax inspection procedures continue to arise.

Government sources said Thursday that inspectors from the Science and Technology Agency chose not to place the JCO plant on a random inspection list following a major nuclear accident March 11, 1997, at a nearby atomic fuel plant in March 1997.

The fire and explosion 2 1/2 years ago at the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, which was operated by the now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., exposed 37 workers to radiation. It was Japan’s worst nuclear accident before the one at the JCO plant last week.

The agency apparently decided not to inspect JCO because there was “no reason to doubt the integrity of its security systems” since it had never filed an accident report.

Meanwhile, the environmental watchdog group Greenpeace said the same day that radiation released in last week’s nuclear accident was “almost certainly” more serious than government data indicate.

The group based its investigation on samples of materials from around the site — including soil from around the accident site as well as salt from the homes of local residents — and said it concluded the government lifted its evacuation advisory too soon.

In a release, the group said it “found high radiation levels on a public road near the plant on Sunday — 24 hours after the all-clear was given by the government” after the Thursday disaster.

According to Greenpeace, neutron radiation seems to have irradiated the environment at least 500 meters from the accident site, which would have reached a major nearby street and more than 170 homes as well as a golf course and farmland.

Neither JCO nor the government used neutron detectors until 6 1/2 hours after the accident, Greenpeace charged. The group used household salt samples and checked the amount of the radioactive isotope sodium 24 left in the salt to calculate the intensity of neutron radiation.

The government should undertake a program to register and monitor the long-term health of people possibly exposed to radiation as a result of the accident, Greenpeace said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.