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Saturday, March 12, 2011



Japan scrambles to stop nuclear accidents

TOKYO - Japan scrambled Saturday to prevent nuclear accidents at two atomic plants where reactor cooling systems failed after a massive earthquake, as it evacuated tens of thousands of residents.

Radiation 1,000 times above normal was detected in the control room of one plant, although authorities said levels outside the facility's gates were only eight times above normal, spelling "no immediate health hazard".

Japan scrambles to stop nuclear accidentsThe two nuclear plants affected are the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants, both located about 250 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of greater Tokyo, an urban area of 30 million people.

A total of 45,000 people living within a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius of the No. 1 plant were told to evacuate -- raising the number from the fewer than 6,000 people within three kilometres told to leave Friday.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan early on Saturday morning left on a helicopter ride to Fukushima to assess the situation at the plants operated by Tokyo Electric Power, and at other areas in the disaster zone.

When Friday's massive quake hit, the plants were immediately shut down, along with others in quake-hit parts of Japan, as they are designed to do -- but the No. 1 plant's cooling system failed, the government said.

When reactors shut down, cooling systems must kick in to bring down the very high temperatures. These systems are powered by either the external electricity grid, backup generators or batteries.

This is key to prevent a "nuclear meltdown" and radioactive release.

When Japan on Friday received news of troubles at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, it dispatched around 160 military personnel there, sending its chemical corps and an aircraft on a "fact-finding mission".

The US Air Force, which has many bases in Japan, delivered coolant to a Japanese nuclear plant, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday, without specifying which plant. 

Japan's nuclear safety agency early Saturday said it was due to issue an unprecedented order for Tokyo Electric Power to open a valve at the No. 1 plant to release pressure, which may emit radioactive vapour, Kyodo News reported.

On Saturday morning, Tokyo Electric Power said that its No. 2 plant was also experiencing reactor cooling problems, Kyodo News reported, prompting Japan to order evacuation for residents within 3km of the plant.

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Japanese officials had kept it informed of their efforts to restore power to the cooling systems while monitoring a pressure build-up.

Kan had at first, on Friday afternoon, said no radiation leaks were among the country's reactors after the massive 8.9-magnitude 
earthquake struck triggering huge tsunamis.

According to the industry ministry, 11 nuclear reactors automatically shut down at the Onagawa plant, the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants and the Tokai No. 2 plant after the strongest earthquake ever to hit the country.

Japan -- located on the "Pacific Ring of Fire," where several continental plates meet and create a string of volcanoes and seismic hot spots -- records 20 per cent of the world's major earthquakes.

As an industrial powerhouse nation poor in energy resources, Japan also draws about 30 per cent of its total power from its 53 nuclear plants. 

1 comment:

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