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Battle to cool Japan plant as food jitters grow

This handout picture, released from Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on March 22, 2011, shows workers spraying water to cool down the spent nuclear fuel in the fourth reactor building at TEPCO's Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. Credit AFP Photo / Ho / Tepco Via Jiji Press Fukushima still leaking radiation: IAEA
Vienna (AFP) March 22, 2011 - The UN atomic watchdog has no new information about the state of the reactor vessels at Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant and whether cracks in them are leaking radiation, IAEA experts said Tuesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency and the Japanese authorities cannot at present confirm that the containments of the first three reactors of the six-reactor plant "are totally intact," said James Lyons, director of nuclear installations safety at the Vienna-based watchdog. "We have enough information to determine that there aren't large holes or excessive releases from those containments. But we continue to see radiation coming from the site," Lyons told a daily press briefing at the IAEA's headquarters.

"The question is where exactly is it coming from: from the primary containment vessels or from the spent fuel ponds. Without the ability to go up there and actually poke around, it's hard to determine," the expert said. Engineers are racing to cool the reactors at Fukushima 11 days after a 14-metre (46-foot) tsunami crippled the ageing facility. External power has been partially restored to the control room of one of the reactor, public broadcaster NHK reported late Tuesday. It said the lights had come back on in the control centre of the number three reactor at the Fukushima plant, making conditions easier for workers racing to prevent dangerous radiation leaks after a huge tsunami.

The number three reactor is a particular concern because it contains a potentially volatile mixture of uranium and plutonium. Graham Andrew, scientific and technical advisor to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, told the briefing that "there continue to be some improvements at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but the overall situation remains very serious". High levels of radiation have been measured at the locality of the plant, he said. The highest concern "remains the spent fuel storage ponds at each reactor unit, particularly unit 4", Andrew said. "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."
by Staff Writers
Kitakami, Japan (AFP) March 23, 2011
Engineers racing to cool a stricken nuclear plant in Japan partially restored power to a control room on Tuesday, as radioactivity in more foodstuffs fuelled anxiety over product safety.

An external electricity supply has now been linked up to all six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power station, more than a week after a 14-metre (46-foot) tsunami crippled the ageing facility.

In another small step towards regaining control of the plant, the lights came back on in the control centre of the number three reactor, making it easier for workers toiling to get the vital cooling systems working again.

"As of 10:43 pm (1343 GMT), the control centre for reactor number three had its lighting on," an official from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) told reporters late Tuesday.

The number three reactor is a particular concern because it contains a potentially volatile mixture of uranium and plutonium.

The twin quake and tsunami disaster, Japan's worst crisis since World War II, has left nearly 23,000 people dead or missing, with entire communities along the northeast coast swept away.

Now the shell-shocked nation faces an invisible threat from radiation seeping from the Fukushima plant, which lies just 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the greater Tokyo area and its 30 million inhabitants.

The health ministry advised residents in five towns or cities in Fukushima prefecture not to use tap water to make formula milk and other drinks for babies due to abnormally high radiation levels.

The government also ordered increased inspections of seafood after radioactive elements were detected in the Pacific Ocean near the Fukushima plant.

At one spot eight kilometres from the troubled plant, radioactive iodine 80 times the normal level was found.

The government has halted shipments of some foodstuffs in nearby prefectures after the discovery of higher-than-normal levels of radiation in milk and certain vegetables, but it insists there is no health hazard.

Raw milk in Ibaraki prefecture and broccoli in Fukushima were the latest products to show levels of radioactive materials beyond legal limits, Kyodo News said early Wednesday.

"Food products that present abnormal levels (of radiation) will not appear on the market, so please don't worry. And even if you put such foods in your mouth, they will not have an immediate health risk," said Consumer Affairs Minister Renho, who uses only one name.

Nevertheless, France has urged the European Commission to impose "systematic controls" on imports of fresh produce from Japan into the EU, amid fears of nuclear contamination.

Nuclear plant staff and technicians, firefighters and military personnel are struggling to regain control of the overheating facility but spikes in radiation levels have at times forced the crews to suspend work.

The UN's atomic watchdog confirmed Tuesday that the ageing Fukushima plant was still leaking radiation.

The government has declared an exclusion zone with a radius of 20 kilometres around the power station and evacuated tens of thousands of people, while telling those within 20 to 30 kilometres to stay indoors.

An executive of the under-fire plant operator bowed deeply and apologised at evacuee centres to people forced from their homes by the crisis.

"Since I have tried to manage this problem hand-in-hand with the government, my visit here to directly meet you was belated," said TEPCO vice president Norio Tsuzumi.

"For this I also apologise from the bottom of my heart."

The plant has been hit by a series of blasts since the March 11 tsunami, in the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986.

France's Nuclear Safety Authority warned that local contamination from the Japanese plant would last "for decades and decades".

Workers were forced to evacuate part of the facility on Monday when grey smoke rose from reactor number three, TEPCO said.

Smoke or steam was also seen rising from the number two and number three reactors Tuesday but work later resumed at the site.

Evacuees endured another night of freezing temperatures in overcrowded shelters, but aid was flowing into the affected areas in greater quantities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Some 533,000 people still had no household power and two million people were still without tap water, with 318,213 people huddled in evacuation centres across 16 prefectures, it reported.

But about 90 percent of the national highways damaged in the twin disaster are now open to the public and more than 90 percent of disrupted telecommunications have been restored, the UN agency said.

A series of strong quakes measuring above 6.0-magnitude rattled the northeast coast on Tuesday, keeping residents on edge, but there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Tokyo's stockmarket, which took a pummelling for most of last week, jumped 4.36 percent as the Bank of Japan pumped another two trillion yen ($24.67 billion) into the money market to calm jittery investors.

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Smoke slows race to cool Japan nuclear plant
Kitakami, Japan (AFP) March 22, 2011
Smoke belched from a stricken nuclear plant in Japan on Monday, disrupting urgent efforts to repair the cooling systems as Tokyo halted some food shipments owing to radiation worries. Rain meanwhile complicated rescue efforts and compounded the misery of tsunami survivors fearful of dangerous radioactive leaks from the wrecked Fukushima power station, which has suffered a series of explosion ... read more

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