Environment News Service

AmeriScan: October 11, 1999


WASHINGTON, DC, October 11, 1999 (ENS) - A team of U.S. nuclear experts will travel to Japan later this month to learn more about the September 30 critical accident at the Tokaimura uranium processing facility. Criticality means a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, as occurs inside an atomic bomb. The team, led by Department of Energy scientists, will exchange information with their Japanese counterparts on the causes of the accident, which released an undetermined amount of radiation and sent three plant workers to the hospital. A second radiation leak at the site was discovered Friday, and contained today. "These U.S. experts will be able to help the Japanese people and the international scientific community better understand why the accident happened. They will also analyze the procedures and processes used to respond to the incident," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "It is our hope that by working together to produce the most thorough analysis possible we can help improve safety at nuclear facilities worldwide."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been reviewing U.S. facilities to learn whether lessons from the Japan accident might improve existing safety programs. "Thus far, as a result of the Tokaimura event, NRC has not identified any safety concerns that would require immediate action," the agency says. The NRC says there has not been a critical nuclear event at a commercial U.S. nuclear fuel facility in 35 years; however, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the NRC has reported repeated "unplanned criticality" events at nuclear power plants across the country.

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