Saturday 16 December 2017

Nuclear leak efforts focus on crack in pit

Radiation may be leaking into sea via damaged concrete pit

Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chisa Fujioka

JAPANESE officials struggling to end the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl were focusing on a crack in a concrete pit that was leaking radiation into the ocean from a crippled reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said it had found a crack in the pit at its No 2 reactor in Fukushima, generating readings 1,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour in the air inside the pit.

"With radiation levels rising in the seawater near the plant, we have been trying to confirm the reason why, and in that context, this could be one source," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), yesterday. He cautioned, however: "We can't really say for certain until we've studied the results." Tepco has begun pouring concrete into the pit to stop the leak, he added.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK, said yesterday that water was preventing the concrete from hardening, and that the pit was still leaking.

Officials from the utility company said checks of the other five reactors have found no cracks.

Nishiyama said that to cool the damaged reactor, NISA was looking at alternatives to pumping in water, including an improvised air conditioning system, spraying the reactor fuel rods with vapourised water, or using the plant's cleaning system.

As the disaster that has left more than 28,000 people dead or missing continued into a fourth week, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan toured devastated coastal towns in northern Japan yesterday, offering refugees government support for rebuilding their homes and livelihoods.

"It will be kind of a long battle, but the government will be working hard together with you until the end," Kyodo news agency quoted him as telling people in a shelter in Rikuzentakata, a fishing port flattened by the tsunami which struck on March 11 after a massive offshore earthquake.

Unpopular and under pressure to quit or call a snap poll before the disaster, Kan has been criticised for his management of the humanitarian and nuclear crisis. Some tsunami survivors said he came to visit them too late.

Kan also entered the 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone and visited J-village just inside the zone, a sports facility that is serving as the headquarters for emergency teams trying to cool the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Operators of the nuclear power plant are no closer to regaining control of damaged reactors, as fuel rods remain overheated, and high levels of radiation are flowing into the sea.

Japan is facing a damages bill which may top $300bn (€210bn) -- the world's most costly from a natural disaster. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Friday that the Japanese economy would take a short-term hit and it could not rule out further intervention for the yen.

The consequences for the world's third-largest economy have already seen manufacturing slump to a two-year low. Power blackouts and earthquake damage have hit supply chains and production.

Hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless, sheltering in evacuation centres, as the death toll from the disaster continues to rise.

Yesterday thousands of Japanese and US soldiers conducted a search for bodies using dozens of ships and helicopters to sweep across land still under water along the northeast coast. The teams hope when a large spring tide recedes it will make it easier to spot bodies.

Radiation 4,000 times the legal limit has been detected in seawater near the Daiichi plant and a floating tanker was to be towed to Fukushima to store contaminated seawater. But until the plant's internal cooling system is reconnected, radiation will flow from the plant.

Sunday Independent

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