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2013年5月29日 (水)

放射能漏れ事故 安全意識を欠く研究者の対応

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 29, 2013
Nuclear researchers showed disturbing lack of safety awareness
放射能漏れ事故 安全意識を欠く研究者の対応(5月28日付・読売社説)

We are greatly worried by the recent radiation leak that exposed a lack of safety awareness among researchers in the nuclear sector.

About 30 researchers suffered internal radiation exposure during last week’s leak inside and outside a facility during an experiment at the Japan Proton Atomic Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC), a key elementary particle research complex in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Only a small amount of radiation has reportedly leaked, and the level of exposure is thought unlikely to endanger the health of the researchers.

Nevertheless, we must say that both the way the experiment was conducted and the safety management measures implemented at the facility were quite slipshod.

Safety overhaul essential

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), which jointly operate J-PARC, should thoroughly investigate the cause of this incident and overhaul their safety measures.

The experiment was conducted by a KEK research team. They were trying to collide proton beams--accelerated to almost the speed of light by a particle accelerator--with gold to generate various elementary particles.

Due to an equipment malfunction, the output level of proton beams rose to 400 times more than planned. This caused some of the gold to evaporate, and unexpectedly generated radioactive substances, some of which leaked from the equipment.

The most glaring problem, however, was that even though an alarm indicating an abnormality went off during the test and the equipment stopped accordingly, the researchers resumed operation of the accelerator after erroneously concluding it was a false alarm.

False alarms are nothing new at the facility. The researchers said they resumed their experiment after checking that the equipment was working properly. But their inspection turned out to be insufficient.

Soon after the experiment restarted, radiation levels inside the facility soared to 10 times higher than usual.

The researchers again stopped the equipment, ventilated the facility by turning on emission fans and resumed their work. As a result, some radioactive substances were dispersed outside the facility building.

By repeatedly making light of the alarms, the researchers made matters worse.

Moreover, the facility operators took well over one day to report the leak to the central and prefectural governments. Their response was far too slow and has generated distrust of the officials concerned.

Unlike a nuclear power plant, the test facility does not store a large amount of radioactive material. Consequently, it is not subject to the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law. The facility is required, just as a hospital is, to take less-binding steps to prevent radiation exposure, in accordance with the Radiation Injury Prevention Law.

False sense of security

This might have lulled the J-PARC operators into being lenient when it came to crisis management measures.

The incident also laid bare the impatience of the researchers as they resisted stopping the experiment before it was completed.

In experiments involving elementary particles, researchers conduct the same operation repeatedly, and analyze the obtained data. Suspending the test for an extended time could mean no valuable data will be gleaned.

Nonetheless, it is questionable whether data obtained through an experiment conducted while alarms were frequently going off can be considered scientifically trustworthy.

Japanese researchers from industry, government and academia have been proactively cooperating in the field of elementary particles, which has resulted in six Japanese winning the Nobel Prize in Physics. It is crucial that researchers in this field regain public trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2013)
(2013年5月28日01時19分  読売新聞)


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