Japan nuclear plant hit by arson wave

A Japanese nuclear plant was hit Thursday by the latest in a series of suspicious small-scale fires, the operator said, amid rising public concern about the country’s nuclear industry.

Six suspected arson incidents have been reported since July 3 at the Tomari nuclear power plant, on the southern tip of Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

“We found the scorched remains of toilet paper today at an office for workers outside the main construction site,” where a new reactor is being built, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. spokesman Shinichi Ishide said.

Earlier cases have included a plastic sheet that was found burned at the construction site.

“All the fires were found in places where fires would not start naturally,” Ishide said.

The company has taken precautions such as banning employees from working alone and checking their belongings.

The fires come amid public concern over nuclear safety in Japan.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power plant, located northwest of Tokyo, was hit last month by an earthquake, causing a fire, a small radiation leak and the shutdown of the plant.

A mission from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Thursday finished a four-day inspection of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, including on its preparedness to extinguish fires.

“We’ve been very active this week because we visited all the plants,” team leader Philippe Jamet said after the inspection.

The team was due to head Friday to Tokyo to discuss its findings with the industry ministry.

Japan, which has virtually no natural energy resources, relies on nuclear power for nearly one-third of its electricity needs.

The Tomari power plant currently has two reactors operating, with the third 900,000-kilowatt reactor expected to start running in December 2009.

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