Chief of Japan nuclear fuel processer JCO makes fresh apology over deadly 1999 accident


Kenji Kirishima, president of nuclear fuel processing company JCO Co., apologized again in a recent interview for a deadly nuclear criticality accident that occurred in Ibaraki Prefecture 20 years ago.

“I want to offer an apology anew from the bottom of my heart” to victims and other affected people, Kirishima said. The Sept. 30, 1999, accident at the JCO facility in the village of Tokai left two company workers dead and more than 660 residents exposed to radiation.

“Safety management was insufficient and poor” at the time, Kirishima said. The company “caused an accident that should have never happened,” he said. JCO instituted guidelines in 2000 to ensure safety, he said, adding that the company has been putting priority on keeping employees aware of the importance of safety.

In the accident, uranium solution that was poured into a precipitation tank in an amount that substantially exceeded the safety limit led to a state of criticality — an uncontrollable self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction — releasing neutrons into the atmosphere.

JCO and six employees, including the then-head of the facility, have been convicted of charges including professional negligence resulting in death. At present, the company engages mainly in storage and management of uranium waste after its license to process nuclear fuel was revoked in 2000.

Since 20 years have passed, more local residents are unaware of the accident.

“I feel the memory of the disaster is fading little by little,” Kirishima said.

But JCO will never forget the accident as the company responsible for it, he said.

“All we can do is to continue sending out a message describing how we’ve acted since the accident,” he said.

“I think nuclear power remains necessary. I want to make efforts to restore public trust,” Kirishima said.

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