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TEPCO to cement Fukushima seabed to stem radiation
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 22, 2012

The operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant is to cover a large swathe of seabed near the battered reactors with cement in a bid to halt the spread of radiation, the company said Wednesday.

A clay-cement compound will be laid over 73,000 square metres (785,000 square feet) of the floor of the Pacific in front of the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the nation's northeast coast, said Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

The area is equivalent to around 10 football pitches.

"This is meant to prevent further contamination of the ocean... as sample tests have shown a relatively high concentration of radioactive substances in the sea soil in the bay," a company spokeswoman said.

Reactors at the plant went into meltdown after their cooling systems were knocked out by the monster tsunami of March last year, which was generated by a huge undersea earthquake.

Contaminated water from the plant leaked into the sea and radioactive particles concentrated on the seabed. Scientists fear ocean currents could pollute areas further afield.

The cover will be 60 centimetres (24 inches) thick, with 10 centimetres expected to be eaten away by seawater every 50 years, the TEPCO official said.

Intense US questions early on over Fukushima
Washington (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - US officials voiced concern about a lack of information after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster and issued a controversial warning not to go near the plant after intense discussions, transcripts showed.

Transcripts of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, released ahead of the one-year anniversary of the crisis, showed that US officials at times relied on information from the media as Japan initially declined assistance.

"We're getting various information from various sources, most of which is either conflicting or supporting the little bit of information that we actually have," Martin Virgilio, a senior official in charge of nuclear safety, said in one transcript shortly after the March 11 tsunami smashed into Fukushima.

Nuclear officials debated at length over a decision to urge Americans to stay out of the 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a wider no-go zone than that put in place by Japanese authorities.

"If this happened in the US, we would go out to 50 miles. That would be our evacuation recommendation," Bill Borchardt, the commission's executive director for operations, said in the transcripts.

The transcripts showed that the commission considered a larger evacuation if the situation deteriorated or the wind changed direction. Several European countries issued dire warnings and urged residents to leave Tokyo.

The no-go zone advice came as Nuclear Regulatory Commission's chairman, Gregory Jaczko, told a congressional committee on March 16 that Reactor No. Four's pool for spent fuel had dried, meaning its ability to keep cool was severely diminished and radiation would spike.

That assessment turned out to be inaccurate. The transcripts showed Jaczko had discussed the spent fuel pool with aides, knowing that he would be asked the question during his appearance on Capitol Hill.

"I'm going to say (the assessment) is from a team that is in Japan that is embedded that is working closely with the Japanese utility and the Japanese regulatory agency, is that correct?" Jaczko asked.

Senior officials replied in the affirmative, although one staff member -- apparently speaking when Jaczko was no longer on the conference call -- disputed the assessment.

Last year's earthquake set off a tsunami that left more than 19,000 people dead in Japan's worst post-World War II disaster. While the disaster crippled the Fukushima plant, the nuclear crisis has not directly claimed lives.

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Radiation fears see Okinawa snow event cancelled
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - A Japanese city on subtropical Okinawa island was forced to cancel a traditional snow event for kids after parents said the snow shipped from the northeast may be radioactive, officials said Wednesday.

The city of Naha had planned the annual event on Thursday with the Maritime Self-Defence Force's aircraft group, which carried more than 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of snow from northern Aomori prefecture.

But dozens of parents, who have fled from the disaster-hit region to the southern island in fear of radioactive contamination from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, demanded the event be cancelled.

"We explained that the snow was good to play with because we checked for contamination multiple times in Aomori and Okinawa, too," said a Naha city official.

"But they said they cannot trust and did not want the snow to be brought in after fleeing from radiation risk all the way to Okinawa."

Soldiers from the aircraft group make the annual trip to Aomori -- about 360 kilometres (225 miles) from Fukushima -- for training and for the past 18 years they have taken with them Okinawa sugarcane while returning to the south with snow.

They have already provided snow to three events in Okinawa this year.

"We make sure the snow is not contaminated and try to explain carefully to organisers, but cannot force them to accept (the snow) when they don't want it," said an officer with the aircraft group who asked not to be named.


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Into the no-man's land of Fukushima
Fukushima Daiichi, Japan (AFP) Feb 21, 2012
Every two minutes on the bus ride through the ghost towns surrounding Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a company guide in a white protective suit holds up a display showing the radiation level. And it is rising. Passing through the disaster exclusion zone visitors catch sight of houses that look like they could be anywhere in Japan, except for the odd sign that there is no-one to loo ... read more

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