Japan battles crippled nuclear plant, radiation fears grow

Radiation found in sea water, milk, vegetables; IAEA: Overall situation at Fukushima plant remains serious; 21,000 dead or missing.

By REUTERS
March 22, 2011 18:27
3 minute read.
Smoke is seen coming from area of No. 3 reactor

Japan smoke from nuclear reactor 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co)

 
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TOKYO - Rising temperatures around the core of one of the reactors at Japan's quake-crippled nuclear plant sparked new concern on Tuesday and more water was needed to cool it down, the plant's operator said.

Despite hopes of progress in the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami that left at least 21,000 people dead or missing, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said it needed more time before it could say the reactors were stabilized.

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Technicians working inside an evacuation zone around the stricken plant on Japan's northeast Pacific coast, 250 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, have attached power cables to all six reactors and started a pump at one to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods.

Local media reported late on Tuesday that lighting had been restored at one of the control rooms, bringing the operators a step closer to reviving the plant's cooling systems.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the overall situation remained serious at the Fukushima plant and that it was concerned it had not received some information from the Japanese authorities about one of the nuclear reactors.

"We have not received validated information for some time related to the containment integrity of unit 1. So we are concerned that we do not know its exact status," Graham Andrew, a senior official of the IAEA told a news conference in Vienna.



The IAEA also lacks data on the temperatures of the spent fuel pools of reactors 1, 3 and 4, he said, though Japan was supplying other updates.



Earlier smoke and steam were seen rising from two of the most threatening reactors, No.2 and No.3, threatening to dash hopes of progress in bringing them under control.

There have been several blasts of steam from the reactors during the crisis, which experts say probably released a small amount of radioactive particles.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, the deputy-director general of Japan's nuclear safety agency, later said the smoke at reactor No.3 had stopped and there was only a small amount at No.2.

He gave no more details, but a TEPCO executive vice president, Sakae Muto, said the core of reactor No.1 was now a worry with its temperature at 380-390 Celsius (715-735 Fahrenheit).

"We need to strive to bring that down a bit," Muto told a news conference, adding that the reactor was built to run at a temperature of 302 C (575 F).

Asked if the situation at the problem reactors was getting worse, he said: "We need more time. It's too early to say that they are sufficiently stable."

Reuters earlier reported that the Fukushima plant was storing more uranium than it was originally designed to hold, and that it had repeatedly missed mandatory safety checks over the past decade, according to company documents and outside experts.

Questions have also been raised about whether TEPCO officials waited too long to pump sea water into the reactors and abandon hope of saving the equipment in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

But one expert said the smoke or steam seen over the reactors did not seem to be linked to rises in radiation levels.

"Overall there is progress compared to a few days ago when everything seemed hopeless. But we still judge the situation to be critical," said Per Bystedt, an analyst at the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority.

"The positive thing is that electric power is more or less connected to all the plants."

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