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Japanese Nuclear Plant Worker
Exposed to Radiation

June 26, 2006

A 19-year-old worker has been exposed to small amount of radiation at a nuclear waste processing plant in northern Japan, no immediate health problems were found, and no radiation leaked outside the plant, plant officials said Saturday.

The unidentified worker took in a small amount of radioactive material at a spent fuel recycling plant in Rokkasho Village in northern Aomori, operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., while inspecting solid fuel - a mixture of uranium and plutonium, said company spokesman Shigehiro Ito.

Early tests performed on the worker found a small amount of radiation inside his nose but no radioactivity was found in his lungs or other parts of his body, although results of more detailed test are expected to take up to 10 days, Ito said.

The incident was the second in just over several weeks. In late May, a 36-year-old worker also was exposed to radiation at the plant.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant started test operations on March 31 after a delay caused by a leak of radioactive water in 2002 and 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.