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    Japan Declares Nuclear Danger Over

    Japanese policemen wearing protective clothing stand guard at a road leading to the nuclear facility where a radiation leak occurred Thursday. (AFP)
    By Kathryn Tolbert and Doug Struck
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Friday, October 1, 1999; 12:00 p.m. EDT

    TOKYO, Oct. 1 Japanese officials declared the danger from the nation's worst nuclear accident to be over today, but the search for blame is likely to deepen public suspicion about the nation's nuclear industry.

    Monitors showed radiation levels around the uranium processing plant 70 miles northeast of Tokyo have returned to normal, and at midafternoon officials said more than 300,000 people who had been urged to stay indoors could safely move about.

    The radiation stopped after eight daring forays by teams of plant workers early this morning finally succeeded in breaking a pipe outside the plant and draining water that had accelerated the nuclear fission of 35 pounds of uranium that workers had mistakenly poured together.

    The teams, who could work hurriedly for only a few minutes to avoid overexposure, had to smash a drainpipe after their efforts to open a water valve failed to stop the nuclear reaction occurring inside.

    Two workers who were handling the material when it erupted into a nuclear fission chain reaction Thursday remained in critical condition, and a third was listed as serious. Approximately 46 others, including firemen and civilians who live near the factory, were exposed, but none remained hospitalized.

    About 150 residents who live immediately adjacent to the plant were advised to remain out of their houses tonight while inspectors continue measurements of the radiation levels at the homes.

    Officials tested nearly 2,000 residents at area community halls, and said they found none suffered from radiation damage. They also said tests of crops being grown by farmers in the area showed they are safe for consumption.

    Although radioactivity inside the processing plant in the town of Tokaimura had soared to lethal levels, the surrounding residential area received radiation doses only slightly above natural levels, according to officials.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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