The Tokaimura Accident

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

Part IV: Immediate Aftermath

There was considerable confusion and some local panic at the time of the accident. Management did not have an emergency plan or an authoritative spokesperson. Rumors circulated that vegetables and dairy products might be contaminated. Authorities warned people not to drink well water or harvest their crops. In an effort to maintain order, some officials suggested that all persons within the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius be checked for radiation exposure. Over a 10-day period following the accident approximately 10,000 residents sought medical check-ups. This was costly and yielded little direct benefit except to ease the concerns of some residents.

Some newsperson or persons flew over Tokaimura in a helicopter and took pictures of a roof damaged in an explosion and fire that had occurred in 1997. This building was located five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the JCO processing plant. However, the picture was published and displayed repeatedly on the Internet. A number of websites quickly came online as information sources. Unfortunately, much of the information was inaccurate and leaned toward sensationalism. Neither JCO nor other local nuclear industries had websites to provide factual information.

Group Assignment

  1. Did company officials respond appropriately following the accident? What kind of company response plan would your team recommend?

  2. Did government officials respond appropriately following the accident? What kind of government response and action would your team recommend?

  3. Discuss briefly how you would have reacted if you:
    (a) were a worker at JCO
    (b) lived in one of the 47 homes adjacent to the JCO plant
    (c) lived in Tokaimura

Go to Part V