Tuesday, May 28, 2013

News: J-PARC leak signals poor sense of crisis

Staff lacked experience handling nuclear materials
Ritual regret: Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute chief Satoru Kondo apologizes at a news conference Saturday in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. | KYODO
The release of radioactive material from a Japan Atomic Energy Agency facility in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, last week suggests scientists still lack a sense of crisis and urgency about radiation dangers despite the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
At least 30 researchers at the Hadron Experimental Facility of the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) sustained internal radiation exposure in Thursday’s accident.
An alarm went off at 11:55 a.m. Thursday in a radiation-controlled part of the Hadron facility when an experiment to generate elementary particles by aiming a proton beam at a target made of gold went haywire. After halting the experiment for the alarm, a researcher in charge decided there was no danger and restarted the equipment just 13 minutes later.
“The safety device went off correctly and there wasn’t a malfunction,” the senior researcher was quoted as saying later. Soon after, radiation readings in the facility spiked alarmingly to 4 microsieverts per hour — 10 times normal — and officials shut down the equipment. They then ventilated the facility and the internal readings dropped. But despite the fact that the fan had no radiation filters, it wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that they checked radiation levels outside the facility.“It was not an appropriate move,” a J-PARC official conceded.
The 1½ days it took the JAEA to report the accident to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, at 10:15 p.m. Friday night, angered both the prefectural and central governments.
“The prefecture is taking the incident seriously. People living nearby are feeling very anxious about the external radiation leak and the internal exposure (of the researchers),” said Shuichi Matsumoto, an official at Ibaraki’s nuclear safety steps division who helped search J-PARC Saturday to probe the incident. 

Ground zero: The facility from which unnamed radioactive substances leaked during a nuclear experiment in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, is shown in this undated photo. | JAPAN ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY/KYODO
                                                                                              (Continue to read on  japantimes )
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