Hopes rise at nuclear plant as engineers reconnect reactors
Published 23/03/2011 | 05:00
Engineers at Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have reconnected all six reactors to the electrical grid but are not yet ready to turn on the power.
They were also able to cool a pool holding spent nuclear fuel, reducing the risk of it boiling and releasing radioactive steam.
Power was partly restored to the control room of the Number Three reactor at the crippled plant. It is a particular concern as it contains a potentially volatile mixture of uranium and plutonium.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a nuclear agency official, said fuel rods had been partly exposed, adding: "We cannot leave this alone and we must take care of it as quickly as possible."
Yesterday an executive from Tecpo, the nuclear plant operator, visited evacuation shelters to apologise to refugees.
Norio Tsuzumi, the company's vice-president, bowed and said: "I apologise deeply because the company has caused anxiety and nuisance to the local residents around the plants in the prefecture and in the wider society. Since I have tried to manage this problem hand-in-hand with the government, my visit here to directly meet you was belated. For this I also apologise from the bottom of my heart."
As engineers continued to work on the plant, fears about contamination spread to Japan's seafood industry. Tests have found elevated levels of radioactive iodine and caesium in sea water, prompting the Japanese government to order the monitoring of seafood. Levels of radioactive iodine-131 near the Fukushima plant were 126.7 times higher than the limit.
However, Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said: "These levels indicate levels that would still be safe even if you drank sea water for a year. Of course, if this were to continue over a long period, some effects will be seen, so we have instructed relevant ministries to step up monitoring efforts of sea water."
The seafood industry has already been badly affected by the tsunami. Supplies of some produce could be cut off for a year. At Tokyo's Tsukiji central fish market, the largest in the world, Toshiharu Kagami, a trader, said: "The tsunami washed away all of east Japan's farmed scallop industry. And it washed away all the people who worked there."
Mr Tsukiji handled 544,000 tons of seafood in 2009, but now there are no flatfish, black rockfish, abalone, oysters or seaweed from the north-eastern provinces. Japan's economy is reeling and three of its major companies -- Sony, Toyota, and Honda -- announced halts to production at plants in Japan because of a shortage of parts from ruined factories in the north.
Radiation 1,600 times higher than normal levels has been detected 12 miles from the nuclear plant, the limit of the evacuation area. While this is not considered high it could harmful if sustained.
Minuscule amounts of radioactive particles believed to have come from Fukushima have been detected as far away as Iceland. (© Daily Telegraph, London)