The Tokaimura Accident

Michael E. Ryan
Department of Chemical Engineering
University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Part V: Update of Situation

On October 4, 1999, JCO set up an advisory booth in Tokai village to receive compensation claims and to handle other inquiries from people affected by the accident. The entire JCO plant, not just the purification operation, was shut down, and on March 28, 2000, STA cancelled JCO's operating license for the plant, making it the first plant operator in history to be punished under Japan's nuclear regulatory laws. Hiroharu Kitani, the president of the company, resigned in disgrace. Various investigations by police and government agencies were initiated. Several civil suits were filed by companies claiming that their profits suffered as a result of the accident. At the end of July 2000, JCO had settled approximately 6,840 of the roughly 7,015 compensation claims filed. As of April 2001 JCO and its parent company, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., had paid 12.66 billion yen in compensation to residents and local businesses, including 50,000 yen to anyone living within 350 meters of the accident site, and 30,000 yen to each person who was forced to evacuate if she or he agreed not to sue in the future.

On October 11, 2000, police in Japan arrested six officials from the JCO plant and charged them with "professional negligence." Police concluded that the plant workers were not properly trained and that safety procedures were routinely violated. Among those arrested was Yutaka Yokokawa, who was the technician supervising the other two workers and who was hospitalized for a three-month period due to radiation sickness. At the time this case was written (April 2001), these officials were facing trial. They could be fined up to 500,000 yen (approximately $4,700), serve jail time for five years, and be subject to hard labor. The president of the company had not been arrested. Criminal charges were expected to be brought against the company.

Antinuclear activists seized on the accident to condemn Japan's commitment to nuclear energy. The accident at Tokaimura and others in recent years have called into question government assurances that Japan's nuclear facilities are safely run. A Mainichi Daily News poll conducted just days after the accident indicated that 70 percent of the Japanese public opposed nuclear power. Tokaimura elected an antinuclear representative to its assembly for the first time. As of January 1, 2001, oversight for all nuclear facilities, except those confined to research, was transferred from the STA to a new Ministry for Economy, Trade, and Industry.

Group Assignment

  1. Discuss the actions taken by the company, particularly with consideration to the company response plan that you have recommended.

  2. Discuss the actions taken by the government (including the police) particularly with consideration to the government response plan that you have recommended.

  3. Discuss the responsibility for this accident that is borne by (a) the three technicians (b) the technicians' supervisor (c) the plant manager (d) the company president.

Go to Part VI