employees open trial with guilty pleas
The Japan Times, 24 April 2001
Safety measures were skipped in fatal nuclear accident
MITO, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) The trial over Japan's
worst nuclear accident opened Monday with six JCO Co. employees pleading
guilty to charges of negligence resulting in death and the company pleading
guilty to violating the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law. The trial over
the 1999 criticality accident at a JCO facility in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture,
that killed two JCO workers is being held before the Mito District Court.
Kenzo Koshijima, 54, former head of the uranium processing plant in
Tokai, and five other employees pleaded guilty to negligence.
JCO President Tomoyuki Inami entered a guilty plea on behalf of the
company, saying, "I know it's too late for regret. I can only pray for
the souls of the dead."
The six employees are charged with allowing other workers to skip lengthy
procedures and instead use buckets to manually mix a uranium solution,
leading to the Sept. 30, 1999, accident at the plant.
The five other employees who pleaded guilty are Hiromasa Kato, 61,
chief of production at the time; Hiroyuki Ogawa, 43, leader of the planning
group when the accident occurred; and three senior workers -- Hiroshi
Watanabe, 49, Kenji Takemura, 32, and Yutaka Yokokawa, 56.
Koshijima and other officials allegedly approved the illegal procedures
at an in-house safety committee in 1995, leading to the compilation
of an unauthorized manual in 1996 that recommended buckets be used to
make the solution.
According to the indictment, the accident and subsequent nuclear fission
chain reaction occurred when three workers poured too much of the solution
into a processing tank that already contained another component, bypassing
several required procedures.
Two of the three workers have since died from radiation sickness --
Hisashi Ouchi, 35, in December 1999, and Masato Shinohara, 40, last
April. Yokokawa was also initially hospitalized but was later released.
Koshijima, Kato, Ogawa and JCO are also charged with violating the
Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law by compiling the manual without informing
Operators of nuclear facilities are required by law to obtain the prime
minister's approval before changing their production methods.
Koshijima and JCO are also charged with failing to instruct plant employees
on matters of safety.
JCO started using illegal methods to process uranium at the plant in
1993, prosecutors said.
They said at the hearing that JCO had conducted an in-house survey
in 1987 and ordered the plant to devise means of hiding illegal equipment
and production methods in the event of inspections by the then Science
and Technology Agency.
The prosecutors also said the crisis-management committee at JCO's
Tokai office in 1992 had compiled secret documents in which the risk
of a criticality accident at the plant was noted.
As a result of the accident, some 600 people -- including more than
200 Tokai residents -- were exposed to radiation, mostly in minor doses.
The six workers were arrested in October.
JCO, a nuclear-fuel processor, is a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining