• Kyodo

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Prosecutors sought prison terms of up to four years Monday for six officials of JCO Co. in connection with the nation’s worst nuclear accident, which left two people dead and exposed 600 others to radiation.

The Sept. 30, 1999, accident occurred at a JCO uranium processing facility in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

The prosecutors’ demands came in their closing arguments before the Mito District Court. The six officials are charged with negligence resulting in death, while the firm is charged with violating the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law. It is the first time criminal liability for an atomic accident has been contested in court.

“The accident greatly shocked local residents, and had great impact as it damaged the public’s trust in the safety of the nuclear energy industry,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The six accused, including Kenzo Koshijima, 56, who was head of the uranium processing plant at the time, have pleaded guilty in the trial, which began in April 2001.

Tomoyuki Inami, president of JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., entered a guilty plea on behalf of the company.

Prosecutors have demanded a four-year prison term and a 500,000 fine for Koshijima, and shorter sentences are being sought for the other five. They also demanded that the firm pay a 1 million fine.

The six were arrested in October 2000 and charged with allowing employees to illegally sidestep safety regulations by using buckets to pour uranium into processing tanks. A fission chain reaction occurred when workers poured too much of the uranium solution into a processing tank.

During the trial, prosecutors said the accident occurred because the accused failed to educate employees on matters of nuclear criticality.

“The firm failed to take precautionary steps to prevent a criticality accident because it placed priority on boosting efficiency,” prosecutors said in their statement.

Two workers who used the buckets Hisashi Ouchi, 35, and Masato Shinohara, 40 died of multiple organ failure caused by radiation exposure. Ouchi died in December 1999 and Shinohara in April 2000.

The defense lawyers, while owning up to the charges, maintain that the state bears some responsibility for the accident.

They said examinations of the plant by the then Science and Technology Agency were flawed and that Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., now known as Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, made unreasonable demands that put undue pressure on the firm.

But prosecutors countered that the accident occurred due to actions that were in defiance of authorized procedures, and that the agency’s shortcomings do not diminish the firm’s criminal responsibility.

The prosecutors earlier said Koshijima and other officials approved the illegal procedures at an in-house safety committee in 1995, leading to the compilation of an unauthorized manual in 1996 that recommended the use of buckets to mix the uranium solution.

Koshijima, the five other officials and JCO are also charged with violating the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law by compiling the manual without reporting it to the government.

Operators of nuclear facilities are required by law to obtain approval from the prime minister before changing production methods.

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