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Workers enter reactor building at Japan nuclear plant

Japan nuclear disaster timeline
Tokyo (AFP) May 5, 2011 - Workers on Thursday entered a reactor building at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant for the first time since an explosion hit the facility, a day after the March 11 tsunami and quake. Here is how the nuclear crisis unfolded:

March 11, 2011: A 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake strikes off the northeast coast, triggering a massive tsunami which destroys whole towns and villages.

The power supply and cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo are damaged.

March 12: The government orders the evacuation of residents living near the plant, where an explosion occurs in a building housing one of the reactors. On March 14 a second explosion occurs, while on March 15 two more blasts and a fire rock the plant and radiation levels reach dangerous levels.

March 18: The core of the number three reactor is damaged, sparking a race against time to cool down the reactors and prevent nuclear meltdown.

March 21: Japan orders a halt to shipments of certain foods from four prefectures after abnormal radiation levels are detected in products from the area.

March 29: "Maximum alert" issued after plutonium is discovered in the soil.

March 31: Radioactivity detected in groundwater reaches a new high of 4,385 times the legal limit.

April 2: Radioactive water leaks into the sea from a crack in the damaged nuclear plant.

April 4: Start of operations to dump 11,500 tonnes of radioactive water into the sea.

April 6: The radioactive water leak at the plant is plugged.

April 7: Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co starts injecting nitrogen into the number one reactor of the Fukushima plant to prevent a hydrogen explosion.

April 11: The government says it will widen the evacuation zone around the plant because of long-term health concerns.

April 12: Japan upgrades its assessment of the severity of the nuclear emergency to a maximum seven on an international scale.

April 17: TEPCO says it expects to cool reactors and control the radiation within six to nine months.

April 21: Japan declares the 20-kilometre (12-mile) evacuation area around the plant a legal no-entry zone.

May 5: Workers enter a reactor building at the plant for the first time since an explosion at the facility.

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 5, 2011
Workers entered a reactor building at Japan's stricken nuclear plant Thursday for the first time since an explosion hit the facility a day after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, officials said.

Wearing gas masks and protective suits with oxygen tanks on their backs, two workers stepped into the building housing reactor number one -- one of four reactors badly damaged at the Fukushima Daiichi plant -- to gauge radiation levels.

"It was the first entry into the reactor building by our plant workers since the explosion," said Satoshi Watanabe, a spokesman for operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

"We are sending workers as a small group for a maximum of 10 minutes so that radiation they will be exposed to can be limited," Watanabe added.

The company later sent in more workers to set up a ventilation system to filter radioactive material out of the air within the reactor building, the officials said.

"We have completed work to place eight ducts inside the facility for the air-cleaning system," said Taisuke Tomikawa, another TEPCO spokesman.

"The operation went smoothly with no major troubles today, and the radiation the workers were exposed to was so far lower than originally expected," Tomikawa said.

"We plan to operate the system for a few days so that we can reduce radiation to around one twentieth of the current level inside the facility," he added.

TEPCO will then begin building a new cooling system outside the reactor -- with water pipes connecting it to heat exchange equipment inside -- in a bid to regulate temperatures in the reactor since it began overheating following the twin natural disasters.

Workers have been dousing the reactors and fuel rod pools with water to cool them and prevent a meltdown.

TEPCO plans to complete construction of the new cooling system in late May or early June, local media said. Engineers aim to achieve stable "cold shutdowns" towards the end of the year.

The reactor had been too dangerous for humans to enter. TEPCO had sent in remote-controlled robots to gauge radiation and temperature levels in the reactor building, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion.

Separately, TEPCO said it planned to raise water levels inside the containment vessel of the number one reactor by adding another two tonnes of water to step up efforts to cool the entire atomic furnace.

Powerful aftershocks rattled Japan's Pacific coast on Friday, one measuring magnitude 6.1, according to the US Geological Survey, though no damage was reported or tsunami warnings issued.

The Fukushima plant, northeast of Tokyo, was engulfed by the monster tsunami triggered by the nation's biggest earthquake on record, and rocked by a series of explosions and fires.

It has been releasing radioactive materials into the environment in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

No one has died so far from radiation, but 85,000 people have left their homes near the plant due to radiation fears and Japan has enforced a 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-go zone around the facility.

On Wednesday, TEPCO said levels of radioactive substances had jumped in the Pacific seabed near the plant. Environmental group Greenpeace has begun testing water samples from the ocean.

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Japan eyes $49 bn nuclear compensation: report
Tokyo (AFP) May 3, 2011
The Japanese government has estimated that compensation for damages resulting from the country's nuclear crisis could reach four trillion yen ($49 billion), a report said Tuesday. Half the money will come from Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant, with the rest coming from other electricity companies, the Asahi Shimbun said, without citi ... read more

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