Japanese Police Raid
Offices Of Nuclear
Plant Operators
TOKAIMURA, JAPAN - Japanese police have raided the head offices of the company behind Japan's worst nuclear accident, as new evidence leads investigators to believe the company knowingly ignored safety procedures.
Police raided the offices of the JCO company Sunday shortly after the company admitted to a Japanese newspaper that it had been ignoring safety procedures at its nuclear processing plant.
The accident happened early Thursday when workers at the plant in Tokaimura, 140 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, were mixing uranium with nitric acid.
They accidentally poured eight times too much uranium into the mixing tank, setting off a nuclear chain reaction that caused an explosion, sending radiation levels skyrocketing to 17,000 times above normal.
Investigators have learned that workers from JCO bypassed a complicated system of feeder tanks that was designed to add the uranium in a controlled way. Instead, workers were using their hands to pour the potentially deadly material into the container.
What officials must now determine is whether this was standard practice at the plant or whether the men were acting on their own.
The three men involved can not be questioned at this time as they are still in hospital suffering from acute radiation sickness. Two of them are in critical condition.
Doctors say one of the men may not pull through after being exposed to lethal doses of radiation. Within a few days, he will undergo a bone marrow transplant. The donor is his younger sister.
In all, 49 people were exposed to the radiation, although only three were hospitalized.
On Saturday, the Japanese government lifted the evacuation order for people living near the plant.
A government spokesman said radiation levels in the area had returned to normal and that it was safe for people to return to their homes.
Schools, supermarkets and shops reopened, although some residents still wonder if it's safe.
People are still being checked for radiation as many worry about the long-term implications of the accident.
While officials said crops, marine products and livestock in the area were safe to eat, many shoppers weren't buying much at local stores.
As more details are released about the accident, public outrage has led to renewed calls for reform of the nuclear industry in Japan.
Japan's president criticized the operators of the nuclear plant. He said they'd been careless and that he doubted workers had been trained properly or understood how to perform their duties safely.