Japan: Quake survivor pulled from rubble after 8 days

Nearly 7,000 confirmed dead and 10,700 missing; engineers race to prevent deadly radiation at tsunami-crippled nuclear station.

March 19, 2011 03:35
3 minute read.
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato)


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A survivor of Japan's powerful earthquake and tsunami was pulled from the rubble on Saturday eight days after the disaster, NHK reported, citing the military.

The young man was found in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, which was one of the hardest-hit regions.

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Japan races to restore power to nuclear reactors

Meanwhile, exhausted engineers successfully attached a power cable to Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear station on Saturday in a race to prevent deadly radiation from an accident now rated at least as bad as America's Three Mile Island in 1979.

Though it is still unknown whether that will be enough to restart water pumps needed to cool overheated nuclear fuel rods, it was at least a step forward at the six-reactor Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

At Fukushima, nearly 300 engineers working inside a 20 km (12 miles) evacuation zone were focussed on trying to restore power at pumps in four of the reactors.

"TEPCO has connected the external transmission line with the receiving point of the plant and confirmed that electricity can be supplied," the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said in a statement.

The next stage will be to check equipment is working and not damaged before trying to crank up the coolers at reactor No. 2, followed by 1, 3 and 4, it added.

If that works, it will be a turning point.

"If they can get those electric pumps on and they can start pushing that water successfully up the core, quite slowly so you don't cause any brittle failure, they should be able to get it under control in the next couple of days," said Laurence Williams, of Britain's University of Central Lancashire.

If not, there is an option of last resort under consideration to bury the sprawling 40-year-old plant in sand and concrete to prevent a catastrophic radiation release.

That method was used to seal huge leakages from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Japan has raised the severity rating of the nuclear crisis from level 4 to level 5 on the seven-level INES international scale, putting it on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, although some experts say it is more serious. Chernobyl, in Ukraine, was a 7 on that scale.

The operation to avert a large-scale radiation leak has overshadowed the humanitarian aftermath of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami that struck on March 11.

Nearly 7,000 people have been confirmed killed in the double natural disaster, which turned whole towns into waterlogged and debris-shrouded wastelands.

Another 10,700 people are missing with many feared dead.

Some 390,000 people, including many among Japan's ageing population, are homeless and battling near-freezing temperatures in shelters in northeastern coastal areas. Food, water, medicine and heating fuel are in short supply.

Health officials and the UN atomic watchdog have said radiation levels in the capital Tokyo were not harmful. But the city has seen an exodus of tourists, expatriates and many Japanese, who fear a blast of radioactive material.

Health officials and the UN atomic watchdog have said radiation levels in the capital Tokyo were not harmful. But the city has seen an exodus of tourists, expatriates and many Japanese, who fear a blast of radioactive material.

Japan's unprecedented multiple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and radiation leak has unsettled world financial markets, prompted international reassessment of nuclear safety and given the Asian nation its toughest time since World War Two.

It has also stirred unhappy memories of Japan's past nuclear nightmare -- the US atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Japan races to restore power to nuclear reactors

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