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In 1999, one of Japan’s worst nuclear accidents occurred at the Tokaimura uranium processing plant, 120 kilometres north of Tokyo. An uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction at the plant, operated by JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining, killed two employees and spewed radioactive neutrons over the countryside. Fifty-five workers were exposed to radiation and 300,000 people ordered to stay indoors, after the circumvention of safety standards caused a leak. Government officials later said safety equipment at the plant had been missing.|
Three years later, TEPCO was exposed as falsifying safety data, including at the ageing Fukushima Daiichi facility. Initially, the company admitted 29 cases of falsification. Eventually, however, it admitted to 200 occasions, over more than two decades between 1977 and 2002, involving the submission of false technical data to authorities. According to the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), TEPCO had attempted to hide cracks in reactor vessel shrouds in 13 units, including Fukushima Daiichi (6 reactors), Fukushima Daini (4 reactors), and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (7 reactors).
TEPCO’s wrongdoings were only revealed as a result of whistle-blowing by a former engineer at General Electric (GE), a company with close connections to TEPCO. GE built the plants and has been contracted by TEPCO to carry out inspection and operational matters for decades. Two years earlier, the engineer had reported the safety frauds to the relevant ministry, MITI, the forerunner of the current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), only to have the government supply his name to TEPCO and conspire with the company to bury the information.