Japan smoke from nuclear reactor 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co)
TOKYO - Japanese engineers were frantically attempting on Saturday to pump out puddles of radioactive water at the earthquake-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant after it injured three workers and delayed efforts to cool reactors to safe levels.
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Underscoring growing international qualms about nuclear power raised by the killer earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan two weeks ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.
Radioactive water has been found in buildings of three of the six reactors at the power complex 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. On Thursday, three workers sustained burns at reactor No. 3 after being exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than usually found in a reactor.
"Bailing out accumulated water from the turbine housing units before radiation levels rise further is becoming very important," said Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency senior official Hidehiko Nishiyama.
Radiation fears escalated in Japan on Friday after workers suffered burns as they tried to cool an earthquake-crippled nuclear power station, while the government sowed confusion over whether it was widening an evacuation zone around the plant.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, making his first public statement on the crisis in a week, said the situation at the Fukushima nuclear complex north of Tokyo was "nowhere near the point" of being resolved.
"We are making efforts to prevent it from getting worse, but I feel we
cannot become complacent," he told reporters. "We must continue to be on
The comments reflected a spike of unease in Japan after several days of
slow but steady progress in containing the nuclear accident, which was
triggered by a devastating earthquake and tsunami two weeks ago.
More than 700 engineers have been working in shifts to stabilize the plant and work has been advancing to restart water pumps to cool their fuel rods.
Two of the plant's reactors are now seen as safe but the other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke. However, the nuclear safety agency said on Saturday that temperature and pressure in all reactors had stabilized.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Friday the
situation at Fukushima was "nowhere near" being resolved.
"We are making efforts to prevent it from getting worse, but
I feel we cannot become complacent," Kan told reporters. "We
must continue to be on our guard."
The 9.0 magnitude quake and giant waves it triggered left more than 10,000 people dead and 17,500 missing.
As shocking as that toll is, much attention since the March 11 disaster
has been on the possibility of a catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima, 240
km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.