Tokai JCO Criticality Accident
Criticality Accident Victims Group
Nuke Info Tokyo 77
by Mitsunari Oizumi
Illness of family members
It all started with people becoming ill. My mother was first. My parents' small car-parts factory is only about 120 m from the JCO conversion plant where the criticality accident occurred. On 30 September, 1999, my parents left home in the neighboring town as usual and started work in their factory at 9 a.m. It was not until 4:30 p.m., about six hours after the accident, that they were evacuated. This was due to the tardy administrative response to the accident, and because the radio disaster communication system was fitted in residents' homes, but not in schools or companies.
For about six hours, from the moment of the accident, my parents and their employees were exposed to radiation. The neutron monitor in the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute's Naka Lab, located about 2 km from the plant, was registering the high dose of neutrons, and thus all people living within 2 km radius of the plant were exposed to neutrons.
The day after the accident, my mother suffered severe diarrhea. She had usually been constipated, so my father and I knew that something serious was happening in my mother's body. She had no appetite and lost 6 kg in a short time. She also suffered from extreme dullness. Even though the diarrhea lasted for 5 days, she forced herself to work as usual. But then on 7 October she could not get up and had to stay in bed. She is usually neatly dressed, but I learned later on that she had had no energy to change clothes and kept the same clothes on for 15 days.
Her stomach problem started in mid-October. She is not one to complain, and endures as much as possible, so she tried to avoid going to the hospital for a long time. But finally on 6 November she went and had her stomach checked. She was told that three ulcers in her stomach were in such a bad condition that bleeding could occur. She was hospitalized right away. She also had bad stomatitis. She spent 20 days in the hospital and then came home, having no more pain in her stomach, but her dull feeling continued.
The founding of JCO Victims' Group
In the middle of November my father was interviewed on TV about the accident and then people who were suffering from illness started to come to talk to him at his factory. Even though these people went to the consultation office set up by the Science and Technology Agency (STA) in Tokai-mura and told them about their illness, local residents were flatly told that their illness had nothing to do with the accident. They were told that "it's only psychological. Don't worry." The least advice they were given was to "go to the hospital or your family doctor." However, for those people actually suffering from skin pain, rushes, stomatitis, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, sleep disturbances, not to mention those who were pregnant or looking after small children, these responses hardly helped to relieve their anxieties. These people set up the "Criticality Accident Victims' Group" and urged my father to become a representative. He turned down their request many times, saying he was not a Tokai-mura resident, but finally had to accept it.
Meanwhile, my father and I persuaded my mother to go to a psychiatrist. The diagnosis was "temporary depression prompted by the accident". My mother was given anti-depressant and sleeping pills, and is still fighting against the sickness.
Local residents' exposure denied
Yoshinobu Koizumi (Tokyo University Isotope General Center) and Masuchika Kono (Kyoto University Post Graduate Engineering Dept.) checked the neutron dose resulting from the accident by measuring Zinc 65 in 5 yen coins found in houses near JCO. The dose was 220 mSv at 100 meters from the plant and 100 mSv at 120 meters ("METAL" Vol.70). This report also says that "we can't deny the possibility of the plant workers and nearby residents being exposed to a high-level radioactive cloud containing radioactive gases with very short half-lives."
However, the Japanese Government and the STA declared that radioactive exposure resulting from the accident was minimal and didn't affect residents' health or environment. They also claim that "as for the possibility of delayed effects from radiation (cancer and so on), this is quite minimal." And as for the residents' health, "special health examinations to find if there are any physical effects caused by radiation can't be considered". What they are saying is that they have no intention to deal with the health problem caused by radiation from the accident. They only plan to arrange health check-ups once a year in order to deal with "residents' anxiety about health".
JCO has the same view as the STA. It does not admit that there are any health problems among residents, and has therefore not arranged for medical compensation except for initial medical examinations immediately after the accident. Newspapers reported that as much as 9 billion yen had been paid in compensation, but this mainly covered the losses suffered by local industry and commerce as a result of "perceived damage" due to the accident. Residents' health has been ignored. At a meeting held for the residents within the JCO plant recently, a professor from some university showed up and insisted many times in a loud voice; "there will never be any health effects whatsoever. Never!" He also said that no health check-ups are necessary and that the annual examinations arranged by the government are "a favor for you". We, the residents, became furious, and felt deeply humiliated.
Message to all
What we are hoping for is compensation for our ill health and for the continuous anxiety about our health for the future. Unfortunately, the Japanese Government and the nuclear industry don't see the importance of this. As the son of one of the victims of the JCO accident, I very much hope that the authorities' disregard for citizens' well-being becomes known around the world, and that people elsewhere will support our campaign for just treatment.