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November 16, 1999

Human Error Cited in Japan Accident


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Filed at 9:20 a.m. EST

By The Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Japan's worst nuclear accident was caused by human error and safety breaches but did not result in major radioactive contamination, the International Atomic Energy Agency says.

The agency's conclusions were contained in a preliminary report issued Monday on the Sept. 30 accident at Tokaimura that severely injured three nuclear plant workers and exposed at least 66 other people to significant radiation. Thousands of people were forced indoors or evacuated.

The uncontrolled nuclear reaction was not brought under control for 17 hours, but radiation levels away from the plant building remained extremely low, the report said.

Lothar Wedekind, a spokesman at the Vienna-based agency, said human error and ``serious breaches of safety principles'' led to the accident.

He said the report describes the event as an ``irradiation accident'' and not a ``contamination accident,'' because there was no significant release of radioactive material.

Safety features and procedures at the reactor and emergency responses should be evaluated, he said, adding that the IAEA would be willing to participate if requested by Japan.




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