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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Japan nuclear staff admit negligence
Emergency workers in Tokaimura on the day of the accident
The accident occurred after safety procedures were ignored
A Japanese uranium processing company and six of its staff have pleaded guilty to charges of negligence arising out of Japan's worst nuclear accident, in which two people died.

The pleas were entered at the initial hearing at the Mito District Court, in Ibaraki prefecture, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-west of Tokyo.

When I come to think of the sacrifice of two persons, I cannot regret it enough.

Tomoyuki Inami
JCO President

Among the six staff who pleaded guilty was Kenzo Koshijima, the former head of JCO Co, the plant in nearby Tokaimura, where the accident occurred in September 1999.

The nuclear accident occurred when staff ignored proper safety procedures and used buckets instead of a pump to transfer a uranium solution to a tank.

Unauthorised manual

The staff were charged with allowing employees to use buckets illegally.

Mr Koshijima and other officials allegedly approved the procedures at an in-house safety committee in 1995, leading to compilation of an unauthorised manual in 1996 that recommended the use of buckets to make the solution.

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

The workers mistakenly loaded 16 kilogrammes (35 pounds) of condensed uranium into a mixing tank - nearly eight times the proper amount - causing it to reach "criticality", the point at which a nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.

Hundreds exposed

The first such accident in Japan, it exposed hundreds of residents, plant workers and emergency personnel who responded to the accident to radiation.

Tokaimura uranium processing plant
It took 20 hours to control the nuclear chain reaction

Two of the plant workers later died.

JCO pleaded guilty to similar charges, including violating a law on nuclear guidelines.

Company President Tomoyuki Inami pleaded guilty to the charges on behalf of the company.

"When I come to think of the sacrifice of two persons, I cannot regret it enough," Mr Inami was quoted by Jiji Press as telling the court.

JCO, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd 5713.T, still exists although it no longer operates having lost its uranium fuel processing license in March last year.

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See also:

30 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan urged to ditch atomic power
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Tokaimura: One year on
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Japan tightens nuclear safety
09 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
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08 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
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