TOKAI, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) A full-scale replica of the uranium facility where a deadly criticality accident took place in 1999 was unveiled Tuesday in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, so future generations can learn from the disaster.
At the opening ceremony, Tokai Mayor Tatsuya Murakami told some 70 people the fiasco there at nuclear fuel processor JCO Co. damaged public trust in atomic energy, which is the core of the nation’s future energy policy.
“We need to learn lessons from the failure,” he said.
Murakami had wanted to preserve the original JCO facility, where the accidentally created self-sustaining nuclear reaction eventually killed two JCO workers and exposed hundreds of workers and residents to radiation.
Nuclear experts and antinuclear campaigners were in favor of preserving the site, but the village assembly was not, and the villagers couldn’t decide whether to preserve it or remove it, resulting in the replica, a village official said.
The replica, built at the Ibaraki Science Museum of Atomic Energy in Tokai, features a model of the processing tank where JCO workers using buckets bypassed standard procedure and set off a chain reaction by pouring in too much uranium solution.
The exhibit also displays a chronology of the disaster, showing how it was caused and how JCO, the local and central governments, and the villagers reacted to deal with it.
According to the exhibit’s on-screen explanation, three JCO workers, two of whom later died, were irradiated when the chain reaction began at 10:35 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1999.
At 3 p.m., Mayor Murakami decided that residents living within 350 meters of the JCO compound should evacuate. It was the first evacuation in Japan due to a nuclear accident.
At 10:30 p.m., a government task force agreed to stop the chain reaction by draining cooling water from the processing tank. This brought the criticality to an end at 6:14 a.m. on Oct. 1.
The evacuees were allowed to return home at 6:30 p.m. the following day.
The screen also gives testimonies by others who were impacted by the disaster.
Masatoshi Akutsu, manager of a vineyard in the village, said the accident damaged the reputation of his grapes.
“I abandoned most of the grapes as many clients told me they do not want grapes that were hit by radiation,” he said.
The replica will open to the public Saturday.
“I believe we should have preserved the JCO facility itself as a bitter legacy,” Kazumasa Aizawa, the first nuclear foe in Tokai elected to the village assembly.