Japan resumes efforts to restore power to nuclear plant

13:08, March 25, 2011      

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Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant resumed work on Thursday to bring the six-reactor facility's cooling systems back online after work was interrupted by a fire.

The cooling systems are critical to bringing down temperatures in the reactors' cores and stabilizing its nuclear fuel.

Owner and operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), was forced on Wednesday to suspend its operations and evacuate its personnel when black smoke began billowing out of the No. 3 reactor building.

While the cause of the smoke remains uncertain, TEPCO officials said it was not the result of an explosion and higher levels of radiation did not accompany the smoke.

The utility said it was the second time in three days that a fire had broken out in the same No. 3 reactor building, but Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency confirmed the smoke stopped at 04:50 a.m. (1950 GMT) on Thursday.

There was a hydrogen explosion at the No. 3 reactor on March 14, following the crippling damage inflicted on the plant by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit three days earlier.

The explosion battered most of the exterior of the reactor building and smoke has been seen rising from the building intermittently since, causing immediate evacuations of workers and hampering the progress of restoring power and effectively cooling the reactors at the plant.

However, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said Wednesday that electrical equipment inside the reactor building "was found to be in a relatively good condition," suggesting power may well be supplied to the cooling systems on Thursday.

Government authorities will continue to monitor radiation levels in the vicinity of the troubled power plant and test soil samples to check levels of radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium.

The authorities will also collect testing samples from the air around the plant and from a 30 km stretch of sea off the coast, where the plant is located.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Thursday three workers were exposed to radiation between 170 and 180 millisieverts while trying to restore power to the No. 3 reactor

According to the agency, two of them were taken to hospital with leg injuries and radioactive contamination.

The two victims are employees of a partner of TEPCO.

They were laying power cables with their feet submerged in the water of the turbine room at the reactor shortly after midday when the radiation exposure occurred.

Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Thursday gave encouragement to Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel struggling to ease the nuclear crisis at the power plant.

Kitazawa met the SDF personnel at the J-Village soccer training facility where operations are based, around 20 km from the Fukushima power plant after arriving at the northeastern prefecture earlier in the day by helicopter.

Kitazawa expressed appreciation to the SDF unit for their efforts to cool down the overheated reactors.

The minister was also briefed about measures to protect them against radiation.

Kitazawa was scheduled to visit a tsunami-hit area in Fukushima Prefecture and an SDF base in Miyagi Prefecture to inspect relief operations, but his plan was canceled due to forecasts of bad weather.

Radioactive leaks were detected after a series of explosions and fires at four of the plant's six reactors following the failure of their cooling functions when power supplies were cut by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on March 11.

The authorities advised residents living within 20-30 km radius of the plant to stay indoors and set a 20 km exclusion zone around the plant.

Source: Xinhua
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