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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Nuclear safety checks in Japan

Radiation tests are being carried out on land around the plant

The Japanese authorities are to carry out safety checks on all nuclear facilities following the country's worst nuclear accident.

Japan's nuclear crisis
The decision aims to prevent a repeat of Thursday's accident at a plant in Tokaimura in which 55 people were exposed to radiation.

One of the men injured in the accident is now in a critical condition, and doctors are preparing to carry out an operation to transplant blood cells from his brother. Two others remain in a serious condition.

Growing criticism

The BBC's Juliet Hindell: "It appears the authorities were at best out of touch, and at worst negligent."
The Japanese Government is facing growing public criticism of the way it handled the accident.

The BBC's correspondent in Tokyo, Juliet Hindell, says that as the investigation continues, it appears that the authorities were at best out of touch, and at worst negligent when it came to safety provisions at the plant.

The Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, said checks would now be made at all nuclear facilities around the country.

Japan has 51 nuclear reactors, which supply some 37% of the nation's power needs.

Mr Obuchi also said that safety measures in the nuclear power industry should be reviewed in order to prevent another accident.

He said operators had to enhance their own crisis management.

Procedures changed

JCO, the company which operated the plant in Tokaimura, has already admitted that it illegally changed the procedure manual so that workers could use steel buckets to transfer uranium solution.

[ image: Residents in the area were tested for radiation]
Residents in the area were tested for radiation
Workers allegedly mixed too much uranium in a tank, setting off an uncontrolled atomic reaction which pushed radiation levels around the building to 15,000 times above normal.

Police are now investigating JCO and its employees on suspicion of professional negligence.

Mr Obuchi has heavily criticised JCO, highlighting the carelessness and poor training of workers, and the lack of proper emergency procedures.

The government of Ibaraki, where Tokaimura is located, has ordered JCO to suspend its uranium processing activities until safety at the plant can be guaranteed.

The BBC's Margret Gilmore: "The authorities have declared the area safe"
Thursday's accident was the latest in a series of nuclear mishaps in Japan, which included an explosion at a reprocessing plant in Tokaimura in March 1997 that exposed 37 staff to radiation.

A newspaper survey published on Monday found that 74% of people were cautious about Japan's nuclear power development. But the government has said it is still committed to nuclear power.

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