Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Four die in steam leak at Japan nuclear plant


A steam leak at a Japanese nuclear power plant killed four workers yesterday, hospital officials said, but authorities said no radiation escaped in the accident, the worst ever in terms of deaths at a Japanese nuclear facility.

Seven others were injured, some seriously, officials said.

The incident, which took place on the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, is certain to increase public distrust of the nuclear industry in Japan, which depends on nuclear power for a third of its energy needs.

"Radioactive materials weren't contained in the steam that leaked out ... We've received a report that there is no impact from radiation on the surrounding environment," an official at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told a news conference.

Police initially said five workers had died, but later corrected the figure to four.

The accident occurred in a building housing turbines for the Number 3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, 320km west of Tokyo.

An official at Kansai Electric Power Co, which runs the plant, said the 826,000 kilowatt nuclear generation unit at the facility shut down automatically when the steam leaked from the turbine, which is in a separate building.

The company was unsure when it would restart.

"We are now investigating the cause," the official told a news conference.

The temperature of the leaking steam was 142?C.

He said the workers involved, who were preparing to shut down the plant for maintenance, were all contractors, and 221 people were in the building at the time.

A trade ministry spokesman briefing reporters said there was no technical problem with the core nuclear reactor at the plant.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he had not heard details of the accident.

"But I think we must do our best to investigate the cause, to prevent a repeat and to implement safety measures," he told reporters.

Chief Cabinet secretary Hiro-yuki Hosoda told a news conference: "I think the cause will become clear within several days."

The only previous fatal accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant was in 1967, in a fire at a plant in Ibaraki prefecture just north of Tokyo.

The worst previous incident was at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, north of Tokyo. That took place on Sept. 30, 1999, when an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction was triggered after three poorly trained workers used buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a tub.

Also see story:

Nagasaki mayor urges US to scrap `mini-nuke' plans

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