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Saturday, October 2, 1999 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Pressure on Japan's nuclear industry

Several thousand Tokaimura residents were given radiation checks

Two days after Japan's worst nuclear accident, operators at the uranium processing plant where it happened are facing mounting criticism.

Japan's nuclear crisis
Residents near the plant, at Tokaimura about 110km north of Tokyo, caustiously resumed daily activities after being told that the immediate crisis had been resolved.

The BBC's David Shukman: "Contamination may have spread to the rice fields"
But Pime Minister Keizo Obuchi heavily criticised the Tokyo-based JCO company, hightlighting the carelessness and poor training of workers, and the lack of proper emergency procedures.

Residents within a 10km radius of the plant have been told they can go outdoors.

[ image: The authorities have claimed nuclear power is extremely safe]
The authorities have claimed nuclear power is extremely safe
The Governor of Ibaraki prefecture, Masaru Hashimoto, said he received confirmation at 0615 on Friday (2115GMT) that the nuclear chain reaction at the uranium processing plant had stopped.

On Saturday the government offered health checks to people living within half a kilometre of the plant.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says the situation is more serious than first thought, but it says its offer to send a team of experts to Japan has been declined.


Juliet Hindell: None of the evacuation centres had radiation meters
A BBC correspondent in the nearby town of Mito says information about possible health risks has been confusing and contradictory since the accident happened on Thursday.

Following an admission that official procedures had not been followed, the plant's head of production has been interviewed by police. They have also taken a statement from one of the three workers seriously injured by exposure to radiation.

The other two are still said to be too ill to give information and are expected to be given bone marrow transplants.

[ image: Farmers have been warned not to harvest crops until they are checked]
Farmers have been warned not to harvest crops until they are checked
More than 50 people are currently being treated for exposure to excessive radiation after the accident - about 45 plant workers, three fire fighters and seven people who worked at a nearby golf course.

The accident happened after workers at the plant poured too much uranium solution into a tank, setting off an explosion which pushed radiation in the area around the building to 15,000 times above normal.

Newspapers reported that employees used buckets to transfer uranium solution into a mixing tank instead of using the designated mechanic aparatus.

One of the workers reportedly told an official that just before the accident he had put in 16kg of uranium - nearly eight times the normal amount.


Farmers have been warned not to harvest their crops until safety checks had been carried out.

Crops from six areas near the nuclear plant have been checked and further testing is due to take place.

Businesses may be given state loans to help them get over the effects of the accident

The government apologised for the slowness of the official response to the accident.

But although public anger and mistrust of nuclear power may be growing, there is no sign that Japan will abandon its policy of building more nuclear plants.

Japan has 51 commercial nuclear power reactors, providing one third of the country's electricity.

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