December 1999

Japan parliament passes new nuclear safety laws

Reuters (Tokyo), December 13, 1999

[Posted 13/12/1999]

Japan's parliament passed a set of bills on Monday aimed at strengthening nuclear safety measures following criticisms of the government for a slow response to the country's worst-ever nuclear accident in September.

The Upper House of parliament unanimously passed the legislation aimed at giving the central government a more responsible role during nuclear accidents. The more powerful Lower House passed the bills last month.

The government has come under fire for lax supervision and a slow response to the accident at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura which exposed about 70 people to radiation.

Under the new law, the prime minister would declare a state of ``nuclear emergency" and immediately set up a crisis management centre to order evacuations and other safety measures during a major nuclear disaster.

Previously, local governments had the primary responsibility of instructing residents on safety measures. They have long demanded the central government play a more active role.

The new legislation requires nuclear facility operators to immediately report any accidents and the prime minister could order the dispatch of Japan's Self-Defence Forces if necessary.

The laws also require periodic inspections of nuclear fuel facilities, previously required only for nuclear power plants.

The Tokaimura accident, which occured when workers ignored proper safety procedures and triggered a nuclear chain reaction, or criticality, was ranked four out of seven on an international scale of nuclear accidents.

Tokaimura mayor Tatsuya Murakami had said he welcomed the new bills but what was more important was whether the new legislation would be effective in practice.

``A concern of mine is...can it (the legislation) really lay the foundation for better and swifter initial responses by the government during emergencies," Murakami said in November.

Reuters news service

Back to contents