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The government will continue efforts to prevent atomic disasters by learning from last year’s fatal nuclear accident in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa said Friday.

“We will make efforts to take steps to prevent nuclear accidents and respond to local residents’ worries over their health,” the top government spokesman said at a news conference ahead of the first anniversary today of the deadly accident.

The fission chain reaction at a uranium processing plant operated by JCO Co. in Tokai was Japan’s worst nuclear accident.

Two of the plant’s workers died from radiation sickness and at least 439 people were exposed to higher-than-normal levels of radiation.

Tokai, some 120 km northeast of Tokyo, will hold a nuclear disaster drill on the anniversary of the incident, involving about 100 residents and 700 other people, including nuclear industry workers.

JCO Co. President Tomoyuki Inami offered an apology Friday on the eve of the first anniversary of the accident.

Inami, who assumed the post on May 1 following the resignation of his predecessor, Hiroharu Kitani, said Yutaka Yokokawa, who was exposed to radiation in the accident, returned to work in July.

Yokokawa, 55, who was the supervisor when the accident took place, suffered radiation exposure along with Hisashi Ouchi, 35, and Masato Shinohara, 40, both of whom died later.

The accident occurred because the workers sidestepped safety procedures and used buckets to pour an excess amount of uranium into a mixing tank.

Koichi Fukushima, president of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., JCO’s parent firm, released a statement Friday saying JCO is actively addressing compensation claims and making safety its priority.

Fukushima said JCO has reached agreements with 98 percent of the people who have sought compensation as of Sept. 22, adding that compensation claims currently total 12.68 billion yen.

International Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma meanwhile reasserted his determination Friday to ensure the safety of nuclear power stations.

He told reporters that his ministry has taken various measures to prevent any more nuclear accidents.

The measures include the enactment of a specific law and the stationing of experts at nuclear plants across the nation, he said.

Science and Technology Agency chief Tadamori Oshima said Friday the government will see to it that thorough measures will be taken to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities in the country.

“In order to keep nuclear power as an important energy source for our country, it is essential that we generate among local people and the nation understanding about, confidence in, and cooperation for” nuclear power, he said.

“We have established a system to prevent a recurrence of an accident, but for the system to function . . . it is important that people at nuclear facilities remain alert and have a sense of purpose,” he said.

The agency also said it has agreed with the U.S. Department of Energy to intensify cooperation on preparedness for nuclear accidents. The agency will send 20 experts to the United States for training and exchange of information.

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