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Japan should drop the long-held myth that nuclear power operations are “absolutely safe” and take steps to prevent the recurrence of serious accidents like the Tokai disaster that rocked the nation in September, the government’s Nuclear Safety Commission said in a report Friday. The report was compiled by the commission’s task force set up to probe the Sept. 30 nuclear criticality accident at the JCO Co.’s uranium processing plant in Ibaraki Prefecture. Its release came three days after one of the JCO workers exposed to massive radiation in the accident died. In the report, the commission’s task force attributed the accident — the worst in Japan’s nuclear power history — to unsafe operations by JCO workers. The accident took place when workers at the plant used a bucket to add 2.4 kg of uranium — seven times the permitted amount — to nitric acid in a processing tank that was not designed to prevent the mixture from erupting into a self-sustaining chain reaction, the report said. One of the workers, Hisashi Ouchi, 35, died of multiple organ failure at a Tokyo hospital Tuesday night. He is the first person to die from radiation exposure in an accident at a nuclear facility in Japan. The task force tentatively identified 150 people who were exposed to radiation in the accident, including JCO employees. JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., has drafted improper operating manuals knowing the procedures were not permissible, the report says. The company’s training of employees had not been sufficient, it adds. The report also points out that inspections by regulatory authorities had not been effective. It urges the commission as well as the Science and Technology Agency to make a self-assessment of their readiness to deal with such serious accidents. It suggests the commission be given greater power and autonomy in its operation. The JCO accident has exposed a weak system of communications between municipalities and government authorities in dealing with serious nuclear accidents. The report emphasizes that a system should be created to enable the central government to be apprised the situation immediately after such a crisis takes place, and give relevant advice to local governments. The report calls for a networking of key medical institutions so they can act quickly to deal with large numbers of people exposed to radiation. The health conditions of the residents around the JCO facility must be monitored on a long-term basis, it adds. Some people involved in the Tokai accident questioned whether the task force’s report should be considered “final,” given that the number of people exposed to radiation and the extent of health effects have not been determined. Tatsuya Murakami, mayor of Tokai, said that given the serious social impact of the accident, more time should have been spent on the issue. “Is the investigation into such a major accident ending so soon? What happened to the question of our exposure to radiation? Why are they in such a hurry,” asked Shoichi Oizumi, 70, who was working at an auto parts factory about 130 meters from the JCO plant at the time of the accident. Ibaraki officials also suggested that government authorities should at least interview Yutaka Yokokawa, 55, who was working with Ouchi at the uranium plant when the accident took place, to determine in greater detail what happened. Yokokawa was discharged earlier this week from the hospital of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences. Doctors said he has nearly returned to his same state of health as before the accident.

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