leak worse than first feared - More than 400 were exposed to radiation in Japan
The Guardian, February 2, 2000
By Jonathan Watts in Tokyo
worst nuclear accident exposed nearly five times as many people to radiation
as wasoriginally thought, the government said yesterday.
sharp upward revision of the impact of the uncontrolled chain reaction
on September 30 is a fresh blow to public confidence in a nuclear industry
that has suffered a series of accidents and cover-ups over the past
science and technology agency revealed that 439 people were exposed
to neutron rays during the 20 hours in which the nuclear fission took
place at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, 80 miles northeast
its initial report, the agency said only 69 people were affected. The
accident occurred when plant workers used buckets to mix nearly eight
times the correct amount of condensed uranium.
to the agency's revised figures, the resulting fission exposed 119 residents,
plant workers and emergency service staff to more than one millisievert
of radiation, which is the annual permissible level.
is the first time that an accident in Japan has affected more than 100
people to such an extent.
worker who battled to halt the chain reaction suffered as much as 38
millisieverts and ambulance crews who arrived without being told they
were visiting a nuclear accident site were exposed to high levels of
agency played down the health implications of its findings, saying that
the risks of cancer only increased significantly with a dose of more
than 50 millisieverts. It said the revised figures were higher because
the later assessment included local residents.
makes the number look bigger than the original figures we reported,"
an agency official told reporters.
groups, however, said the data under played the seriousness of the accident.
still don't think this is an accurate figure. It doesn't include any
people passing through the area at the time or those who were working
in nearby fields," said Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan.
average incidence of leukaemia is 0.66% in Japan. According to the International
Commission of Radiological Protection, the risk increases by 0.05 points
for every 10 millisieverts of exposure.
new figures are likely to add to public concern about the safety of
the nuclear industry. Since the chain reaction, several local governments
have halted or cancelled nuclear energy projects.
the atmosphere of increased safety consciousness, British Nuclear Fuels
Ltd has lost contracts as a punishment for supplying reprocessed fuel
with falsified safety data.
officials have offered to monitor 120 people affected by radiation.