Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Nuclear plant faces criminal charges
Announcement follows Wednesday's massive police raids
Japanese police plan to press criminal charges against the operators of the uranium processing plant where the country's worst nuclear accident took place last week.
JCO's 61-year-old President, Hiroharu Kitani, is also likely to be charged for violating nuclear plant regulations. It is alleged that the company changed its operating manual without telling the government, which is illegal.
The company has acknowledged serious lapses in safety procedures in the plant, including the practice of transferring nuclear material by hand in buckets, rather than using the proper aparatus.
The police statement came as the environmental group, Greenpeace, said the number of people in exposed to radiation during the accident was almost certainly higher than official estimates.
The group said this would have undoubtably affected hundreds of people nearby, not just the 50 or so claimed by the authorities.
The group also criticised the length of time it took to evacuate local residents, thereby exposing them to the radiation.
There is growing public anger in Japan over alleged disregard for safety procedures at the Tokaimura plant and concern about nuclear installations in general.
He spoke of ways to recover people's trust in nuclear energy during a visit to Tokaimura to met workers at the plant and local residents.
Tokaimura Mayor Tatsuya Murakami presented the prime minister with a lunch made from locally produced fish and vegetables.
The accident on 30 September happened when three workers at the plant allegedly skipped key security steps and transferred eight times the normal amount of enriched uranium into a chemical bath.
At least 49 people were exposed to dangerous radiation at the plant, and more than 300,000 residents nearby were told to stay indoors because of the dangers posed by radioactive fallout.
With few resources and energy hungry economy, Japan relies heavily on nuclear power which provides about 35% of Japan's energy needs.
In spite of last week's accident the government says it will press ahead with its nuclear energy programme with plans to bring another 20 nuclear reactors on stream by 2010.