March 17, 2011
Engineers at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant have managed to lay a cable to reactor 2, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reports. Restoring power should enable engineers to restart the pumps which send coolant over the reactor. Workers at Fukushima have been battling to prevent fuel in the reactors from overheating since Friday’s magnitude 9.0 quake and subsequent tsunami. The confirmed death toll from the disaster has risen above 5,600. More than 9,500 people are missing and tens of thousands of people are living in temporary shelters. US President Barack Obama has said he is confident the “strong, resilient” people of Japan will recover from the crisis and that the country will emerge stronger than before. The atomic crisis was triggered when the power supply to Fukushima was damaged by the natural disaster and back-up generators failed. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs the plant, has been attempting to connect it to the main grid via a 1-km (0.6-mile) electricity cable. Once power is restored, engineers should be able to re-activate the pumps which send coolant through the reactors and the pools where spent fuel rods are stored.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the cable had reached the site by 1730 local time (0830 GMT) on Thursday, and that engineers planned to reconnect power to the reactor once workers have finished spraying seawater over reactor 3. Tepco warned the process of reconnecting power could take up to 15 hours. Helicopters and water cannon have been dumping seawater over the Fukushima reactors, to try to prevent fuel rods melting. Video footage had suggested most of the water had been falling outside the target buildings, but a Tepco spokesman said it appeared the operation had had some success. “When we poured water, we monitored steam rising from the facility. By pouring water, we believe the water turned down the heat. We believe that there was a certain effect,” he said. Another spokesman said on Thursday that aerial observations of reactor 4 indicated it did contain some water. “We have not confirmed how much water was left inside but we have not had information that spent fuel rods are exposed,” he said. Earlier, senior IAEA official Andrew Graham said the situation at Fukushima had not deteriorated, but could yet do so. He described the situation at “reasonably stable”. The head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, is heading to Tokyo to be briefed by Japanese officials.
March 17, 2011
The population of Japan is with them in spirit and, according to reports, colleagues of the estimated 200 remaining workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are ready to work alongside them to avert catastrophe. The limited effectiveness of the water bombing to cool the storage poll for spent fuel rods has re-focused attention on the anonymous technicians, now thought to have been joined by firefighters and soldiers. The few details from relatives suggest no one in this elite team has got ideas about abandoning the work. One reportedly told a colleague from the plant he was prepared to die: it was his job. The wife of one of the “Fukushima 50” told the state broadcaster, NHK, her husband had emailed to say the situation was serious. “He told me to take care of myself because he wouldn’t be home for a while.” The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, has been inundated with offers after requesting 20 volunteers to help with making the reactors safe. A 59-year-old, with decades of experience, put himself forward. A woman, thought to be his daughter, wrote on Twitter: “I fought back tears when I heard that my father, who is to retire in six months, had volunteered.” She said he had told her that the future of Japan’s nuclear power industry rested on Fukushima. He had said, ‘I am on a mission’,” she added. The workers are operating round the clock, in near-intolerable conditions, threatened by exposure to radiation.
Japan’s health ministry said the legal limit on radiation exposure would be raised to facilitate time spent at the reactors. Five Tepco workers have died since the plant was damaged by last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, though none from radiation poisoning. Two are reported missing, while 22 have been injured, some in the plant’s hydrogen explosions. On Wednesday, surging radiation levels forced workers to withdraw from the crippled plant for 45 minutes. Their permanent withdrawal will be the first sign that the battle has been lost. The prime minister, Naoto Kan, has told them that “retreat is unthinkable”. Experts said the workers might be increasing their chances of developing cancer despite the team rota system. The workers can expect to keep their anonymity, so strongly protected by their families in recent days. The fear is that having been exposed to danger they will join tens of thousands of other Japanese whose health has been forever affected by radiation, becoming a modern-day equivalent of the hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombs. “The government and Tepco were saying the volume of leaked radiation is significant, but I think they’re taking the situation too lightly,” Haruhide Tamamoto, 80, a victim of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, told Kyodo news agency. “I’ve suffered from illnesses and other health concerns ever since I was exposed to radiation and I know it’s not how the authorities describe it – I want them to realise that this is a real crisis.”