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Tokai JCO Criticality Accident

Report [35] Sep.30 2000

Japanese Nuclear Industry in the Aftermath of the JCO Accident

Nuclear Safety Administration

● There are two major steps to the pre-construction safety review of a nuclear facility/plant.  Applications are first reviewed by the controlling agency, and then by the Nuclear Safety Commission.  A supplementary pre-operation plant inspection by the controlling agencies follows this double check.  Once operation begins, on spot inspections are carried out under the supervision of the controlling agencies. 


Nuclear fuel facility

Nuclear power plant

Initial review of the application for building a power plant

Science and Technology Agency (STA)

Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)

Second review of the application for building a power plant

Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC)

Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC)

 (Following the reorganization of the ministries from January 2001, all nuclear related plants except for research facilities will be put under the control of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).)


              ● Under the newly enacted Special Nuclear Disaster Countermeasures Law, 21 disaster prevention stations (called off-site centers) were set up across Japan.  Central and local governmental officials would gather here in case of an accident.  Disaster prevention officers and security officers are stationed at these stations.  A total of 108 staff were stationed to these prevention stations in July, 2000.  In case of an accident, the disaster prevention officer would collect information and direct disaster countermeasures such as evacuation of residents.  The security officer will carry out 4 inspections a year of nuclear facilities and check if they are lawfully operating.  However, according to one of the security officer interviewed by NHK television, one third of the security officers were newly hired for this purpose and have little or no knowledge of operational procedures, radioactivity management, and other highly professional understanding necessary to carry out the inspections.


              ● Under the Law for the Enforcement for the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors, periodic inspections are in most cases carried out once a year at nuclear power plants.  No periodic inspections were required prior to the JCO accident for nuclear fuel facilities.  The law was since revised and now requires a once a year periodic inspection at all nuclear fuel facilities.  Though this is a welcomed change, these inspections are after all a tour of the facilities by the operators.  It is doubtful that these inspections will truly prevent future accidents.  In addition, the time spent on periodic inspections for nuclear power plants have been getting shorter and shorter.  Combined with the aging of Japanese reactors, the scaled-down inspections pose great threat.


● CNIC’s conclusion is that some meaningful improvements have been made on accident coutermeasures, but little has been done to prevent accidents.


Nuclear Emergency Countermeasures

              The Special Nuclear Disaster Countermeasures Law passed the Diet in Dec. 1999 and was put to effect in June, 2000.  Based on this law, a nuclear emergency drill was conducted in Fukui Prefecture in March 2000.  Even before the JCO accident, there were some guidelines on emergency countermeasures such as the Guideline on Emergency Plans for a Nuclear Power Plant formulated by the Nuclear Safety Committee in 1980.  But due to political concerns, central and local governments fell back on the assumption that nuclear accidents are unrealistic and did not prepare for possible disasters. 

The new law obliges nuclear business operators to equip their facilities with radiation monitors and has made nuclear disaster drills mandatory which will be carried out jointly by central and local governments, and nuclear business operators.

The law is based on an assumption of an accident of a level of the Three Mile Island (1979, the U.S., level 5 accident on the international scale of International Atomic Energy Agency) and does not go far enough in preparing officials and residents for all types of possible accidents.


Nuclear Compensation System

              The Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage was revised in December 1999.  Upper limit of insurance money for a nuclear fuel processing facility was increased from 1 billion yen to 12 billion yen for high-enriched uranium processing facility and to 2 billion yen for low-enriched uranium processing facility.  The changes do not apply to the payments for the JCO accident.

              When the law on nuclear compensation was set up in 1961, the Special Committee of the Lower House decided on a supplementary resolution saying that “guidance should be given on setting up reserve funds from profits” in case the damages go beyond the insurance limit.  No such guidance has been issued, and there is no such fund.

              Exposed residents had their initial health check-ups paid by JCO Co. but neither the government or the company has provided financial assistance for subsequent check-ups.

              JCO and its parent company Sumitomo Metal Mining has paid 12.29 billion yen by the end of July 2000 in compensation to local residents and firms in Tokai-mura (village) and still has 175 cases to work out.  Sales of local agricultural products and fisheries have not fully recovered yet.  In addition, tourism, and real estate prices have still not recovered in the aftermath of the accident.


Excerpt of polls conducted after the accident.

● Conducted by Central Research Services, Inc. from Dec. 10 –13, 1999 and released in Feb. 2000.

JCO Accident Response Investigation

# Your impression on first hearing of the accident

51.9% Did not anticipate an accident of that scale happening at all

28.7% Was expecting that some day an accident of that scale would happen


# How did your interest in nuclear energy change?

31.4% Considerably increased

43.1% Somewhat increased

23.4% Has not changed


● Conducted by Japan Public Opinion Poll Research Services (日本世論調査会)

 on Oct. 23 and 24, 1999 released in Nov. 1999.

# How do you feel about the development and utilization of nuclear energy carried out in Japan?

52.4% Feel great anxiety

38.2% Feel somewhat anxious

7% Not too worried


#What is your impression of the JCO accident

71.1% Nuclear industry lacks in safety consciousness/awareness

53.1% Cannot trust the government’s safety administration

32.5% There isn’t enough public information on nuclear energy


# What do you think about the government's plan to build 20 additional nuclear power plants?

50.8% Should keep the status quo (should not build any additional plants)

28.2% Should reduce the number of nuclear power plants

11.3% Should build additional nuclear power plants.

(Provisional translation done by Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center)


Local situations

● Tokai-mura: For the first time in the village’s history, an anti-nuclear candidate, Mr. Kazumasa Aizawa, was elected into the Village Assembly soon after the accident.  This was a significant turn of events in a village where fifteen nuclear facilities occupy 13.4% of the village area and a third of the population is employed by the nuclear industry.

● Mie Prefecture: Responding to the Governor’s announcement that plans for the Ashihama nuclear power pant should be cancelled, the president of Chubu Electric Power Co. announced in Feb. 2000 the company’s intentions to cancel the plan.

● Utilities’ plans to build 21 additional power plants by 2010 reduced to 13: In 1998 it was announced by the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) that the utility companies planned to build 21 reactors for a total capacity of 70,779 MW by 2010.  In the year 2000 the agency announced that the utility companies plan to build 13 reactors for a total capacity of 61,850 MW by 2010.  It is viewed that under the current situation, this revised plan is still unrealistic.  Strong local opposition, electric utility liberalization and recent stagnant electricity demand caused this drastic reduction.


Other damages to the industry

Mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel data fabrication scandal: Shortly before the JCO accident on 13 Sep. 1999, it was revealed by The Independent that the British Nuclear Fuel plc. had falsified quality control data for the MOX fuel manufactured for the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO).  At first BNFL admitted the falsification just for the MOX for Takahama 4.  Later it was forced to admit data falsification of the MOX for Takahama 3 as well.  The MOX For Takahama 3 had already been shipped to Japan.  Upon strong requests by KEPCO, the Japanese government and local residents, BNFl agreed in July 2000 to ship back the fuel.  However, the public’s trust in KEPCO, Japanese regulators, and not to mention BNFL was severely damaged by this scandal which involved not only the falsification of data but information concealing and contradicting information.  Following this scandal on top of the JCO accident, the MOX program was seriously set back.  The plan was to begin the burning of MOX fuel in 1999.  However, Fukui Prefecture has announced that it will not give permission to begin burning MOX fuel until at least the year 2002.  In addition, Niigata Prefecture has announced that it will not begin burning MOX fuel until it has been tried out in Fukushima Prefecture.  Meanwhile in Fukushima, citizens have gone to court to ask for a suspension on burning the MOX fuel which was manufacture in Belgium in Fukushima I-3.


Significant accidents and incidents of the past five years.

1995                Sodium leak and fire at Monju Fast Breeder Prototype Reactor

Operator: Then Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (now Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute)

Place: Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) : Level 1

1997      Fire and explosion at Tokai Reprocessing Plant

Operator: Then Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (now Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute)

Place: Tokai-mura, Ibaraki-Prefecture

IAEA INES: Level 3

1999      Large amount of coolant leak at Tsuruga 2

              Operator: Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPCO)

              Place: Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture

              IAEA INES: Below scale

Criticality accident at JCO Co.

              Operator: JCO Co. 100% subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co.

              Place: Tokai-mura, Ibaraki-Prefecture

              IAEA INES: Level 4

              Highest exposure dose: 16~20 Sv

              Fatalities: two JCO workers

Evacuation: 161 people (47 households) were evacuated to close-by community center and were forced to spend two nights there.  In addition, 300,000 residents were advised to stay indoors for over a day.

Exposure: At least 439 people exposed.

Compensation paid by JCO and its parent company Sumitomo Metal Mining as of the end of August 2000: 12.6 billion yen


Citizens' Nuclear Information Center
Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho,
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan