Commission vows to win back trust The Nuclear Safety Commission on Friday expressed regret over its inability to prevent last September’s fatal nuclear accident in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.
“We deeply regret that the Nuclear Safety Commission could not fulfill its duties and we feel a tremendous responsibility over being unable to respond to the public’s trust,” the commission said in its 1999 white paper, submitted earlier in the day to the Cabinet.
The accident at the JCO Co. uranium processing plant resulted in the deaths of two workers and exposed more than 400 others to higher-than-normal levels of radiation, making it Japan’s worst nuclear power-related disaster.
The white paper touches on various problems that emerged concerning nuclear safety in 1999, including a leak of cooling water from the Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture in July and revelations that mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel shipped from Britain later in the year was tainted.
The commission says in the document that it will reinforce its functions and work on improving nuclear safety. It also says it is important to disclose information about atomic safety matters to regain public trust in the nuclear program.
The report says the government was not fully informed of safety management at the plant and that JCO Co. lacked a “safety culture,” allowing dangerous operations to take place.
To prevent similar accidents, the commission said, it will promote information disclosure and make use of new legislation aimed at preventing and better coping with accidents at nuclear power facilities to ensure safety.
The law, which went into effect in June, stipulates that the central government take the lead in dealing with nuclear accidents. It gives the prime minister responsibility for declaring a state of emergency, setting up a crisis-management task force and requesting the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel if necessary.
“We will take initiatives in order to respond to the people,” said the commission, an advisory body to the prime minister.
The organization is responsible for policy matters and regulations concerning the safety of nuclear energy. The Tokai accident claimed the lives of Hisashi Ouchi and Masato Shinohara, who triggered a self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction at the plant when they poured too much uranium into a tank, using procedures that deviated from government-approved methods.
At least 439 people, including 207 local residents, were exposed to higher-than-normal levels of radiation in the incident, evaluated as a Level 4 accident, meaning it did not cause serious danger outside the facility.
Last July, more than 50 tons of cooling water containing radioactive material leaked inside a concrete containment housing a pressurized water reactor at the Tsuruga plant due to a crack in a pipe.
The MOX fuel scandal involves deliveries of MOX fuel from British Nuclear Fuels PLC to the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. It was later found that BNFL workers had falsified quality assurance data.