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The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"It is still unclear to what extent this shock will instil greater concern for nuclear safety"
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Saturday, 30 September, 2000, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Tokaimura: One year on
Emergency workers in Tokaimura on the day of the accident
Emergency services were criticised for their slow reaction
By Charles Scanlon in Tokaimura, Japan

It is one year since workers at a uranium processing plant in Japan unwittingly triggered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Two of the workers later died from their injuries, and more than 40 others were treated for exposure to high levels of radiation.

The accident, in the town of Tokaimura north of Tokyo, had a devastating impact on confidence in Japan's nuclear industry.

I'm very worried... We were given no guidance at all until four months after the accident.

Shoichi Ozumi, nuclear accident victim

The Japanese Government says it is trying to rebuild trust, but has been accused of failing even to look after the residents who lived close to the nuclear plant.

Shoichi Oizumi was at work in his car parts factory at 10:35am, the time when the accident happened.


At that moment, just across the road but unknown to him, large amounts of radiation began to leak into the atmosphere from an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.

It was three hours before Mr Oizumi and other local residents knew anything about it. They were not evacuated until the end of the day.

He has since developed a severe rash on his hands and face.

Shoichi Oizumi shows the rash on his hand
Mr Oizumi has developed a rash on his hands and face

"I'm very worried," he said. "The government says there's nothing to worry about but doctors tell me there could be long-term effects. We were given no guidance at all until four months after the accident."

Mr Oizumi leads a group of residents who are angry at the inept official reaction to the disaster and at the way their health concerns have been brushed aside by the authorities.

One year on, the way the accident has been handled has poisoned relations between the nuclear industry and the local community.

In Japan as a whole, it has shattered confidence in nuclear safety. The government has barely started the task of rebuilding that trust.

No contingency plan was in place on the day of the accident. At the time, the government says it did not think one was necessary.


Even more shocking was the revelation that unqualified workers had been mixing liquified uranium in buckets.

Now though, the government says it is tightening inspections at nuclear plants and will be better prepared for any future accident.

Japan is an island and lacks natural resources. We need nuclear power

Japanese Government

"There have been a series of accidents apart from the one at Tokaimura and we understand public concern," Yoshiyuki Chihara, a government official, told the BBC.

"We're inviting laymen and even critics onto committees and getting much more public input."

But the official said: "Japan is an island and lacks natural resources. We need nuclear power."

Japan's cities already rely on nuclear energy for 30% of their power and eight more nuclear plants are being planned despite the high degree of public opposition.

In other words, the accident at Tokaimura has had little impact on government policy. What remains to be seen is whether it will at least instill greater concern for nuclear safety.

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Japan nuclear worker dies
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