• Kyodo

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A nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, which has been closed since an accident in 1997, reopened Thursday for what the operator says are checkups.

The state-run Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, formerly the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., closed the facility in March 1997 after a fire and explosion exposed 37 workers to radiation.

The Tokai village and Ibaraki Prefectural Governments have not given permission for full operations to resume at the plant.

The institute said it is opening the plant again merely to conduct checkups, not to resume operations. It plans to reprocess 5.7 tons of spent fuel stored inside the plant in about a month.

But antinuclear groups are charging that the institute is effectively trying to pave the way for full-scale operations to resume.

Last May, the government’s Nuclear Safety Commission declared the institute’s plant safe.

But many local residents are against the resumption of operations, particularly since Japan’s worst nuclear accident occurred at a uranium-processing facility operated by JCO Co. in the village last September, resulting in the deaths of two plant workers.

Leak shuts reactor

NIIGATA (Kyodo) Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced Thursday that it has commenced manually shutting down a nuclear power plant reactor in Niigata Prefecture due to water leakage from a high-pressure turbine.

Tepco started to shut down the No. 2 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant at 1 p.m. Thursday. The shutdown is necessary for the company to determine the cause of the leakage, it said.

The company said the 1.1 million-kw reactor was to be completely shut down by 12:30 a.m. today.

Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which has seven reactors with a combined generating capacity of 8.21 million kw, is the world’s largest nuclear power plant in terms of capacity.

The company said one of its employees found two small pools of water on the floor under the turbine at the No. 2 reactor shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday.

The water contained an “extremely small” amount of radioactivity, the company said, adding the incident will not affect the environment outside the reactor.

Tepco shut down the No. 6 reactor at the same plant on May 28 due to unusually high levels of iodine in its cooling water.

Ton of Monazite found

Tokyo police said Wednesday that they have found 1.8 tons of monazite, a mineral containing low-level radioactive material, in the home of a city assemblyman in Sawara, Chiba Prefecture.

The mineral, believed to be part of some 20 tons of monazite unaccounted for earlier this month, was discovered Wednesday in a storage room near the 72-year-old Sawara assemblyman’s home, officials said.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Safety Bureau launched a nationwide hunt for the missing monazite after the Prime Minister’s Office Residence and nine other government offices received packages containing small amounts of the substance in the mail earlier this month.

Police have since determined the missing monazite belonged to the head of a nonprofit organization known as Nihon Bosei Bunka Kyokai (Japan Society of Motherhood and Culture).

Hiroshi Ikeda, 84, head of the organization, reportedly imported 40 tons of monazite from Thailand about 20 years ago, ostensibly for research and to sell to hot springs that use radium and thorium. Monazite contains thorium.

The Sawara assemblyman, who was not named, reportedly told police investigators that he was holding the substance as collateral for 5 million yen he loaned to Ikeda 15 years ago but that he had no knowledge that it was monazite.

He reportedly said he was told the mineral was used for casting.

Police said the monazite was found stacked inside a storage room about 30 meters away from the assemblyman’s house. It was kept in vinyl bags with labels reading “monazite” and “20 kilos.”

Police detected a radioactivity reading of 100 microsievert per hour close to the storage room, officials said. That level of radioactivity apparently does not pose a health hazard to the local community.

According to Tokyo police and the Science and Technology Agency, 17 tons of the monazite that belonged to Ikeda have been accounted for. Small quantities have also been found in Saitama, Gifu and Ibaraki prefectures.