Japan Plant Worker Exposed to Radiation

A worker at a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Japan has been exposed to a small amount of radiation, but has not developed any health problems, the operator of the plant said Thursday.

On Monday, routine checks found that a patch of the worker's uniform has been contaminated with radiation, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. said in a statement.

Tests confirmed Thursday that the 36-year-old male worker has been exposed to radiation, it said.

CountryWatch: Japan

But the amount of exposure was about one-fifth of what a person would be exposed from taking an X-ray, according to company spokesman Kazuhiko Shimada.

The worker was believed to have been exposed to radiation during work late last week, the statement said.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant started test operations on March 31 after a delay caused by a leak of radioactive water in 2002 and strident public opposition. The plant eventually is to produce MOX fuel, a uranium-plutonium mixture.

The fuel is a central element of Japan's plans to reduce its dependence on energy imports by building so-called fast-breeder reactors, which produce plutonium that can then be reused as fuel.

Japan, which now relies on nuclear plants for a third of its energy needs, aims to raise that to nearly 40 percent by 2010.

But the Japanese public has grown increasingly wary of the nuclear power industry following a spate of safety problems, shutdowns and cover-ups.