Saturday, March 19, 2011

Japan nuclear plant power 'close'

Japan nuclear plant power 'close'

PM Naoto Kan said "we must rebuild Japan from scratch"

Workers are close to restoring power to cooling systems at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant, officials say.

Engineers are expected to connect a new power line to four of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, north of Tokyo, by the end of Saturday.

The earthquake and tsunami it triggered crippled the plant's cooling systems, raising concerns over radiation leaks.

Just under 7,200 people are known to have died in the disaster on 11 March. About 11,000 more remain missing.

The authorities have begun building temporary homes for some of the hundreds of thousands of people still sheltering at emergency evacuation centres.

Many survivors have been braving freezing temperatures without water, electricity, fuel or enough food.
Alert level raised

Firefighters have continued to spray water to cool the dangerously overheated fuel rods at the ageing Fukushima plant, in a desperate attempt to avert a meltdown.

The storage pools, which contain used fuel rods, also need a constant supply of water.

Engineers have now connected a power cable to the outside of the plant. Further cabling is under way inside to try to restart water pumps in four of the six reactors.

A nuclear safety agency official said: "We are scheduled to restore electricity at number 1 and 2 [reactors] today.

"Reactors number 5 and 6 also will be powered today. They are scheduled to restore power to number 3 and 4 tomorrow [Sunday]."

Given the scale of the damage, it is not certain the cooling systems will work even if power is restored. Workers are also boring holes in roofs at the plant to prevent a potential gas explosion.

On Friday officials raised the alert level at the plant from four to five on a seven-point international scale of atomic incidents.

The crisis, previously rated as a local problem, is now regarded as having "wider consequences".

However health officials have said radiation levels in the capital Tokyo, 240km (150 miles) to the south, were not harmful.

Meanwhile, reports that a young man had been found in a wrecked house eight days on from the quake have proved false, after it emerged that he had in fact returned to his ruined home from an evacuation centre.

Katsuharu Moriya, a man in his 20s, was found on Saturday by emergency workers in the city of Kesennuma, in Miyagi prefecture - one of the hardest-hit regions.

Millions of people have been affected by the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami; about 400,000 people are homeless.

A tale of survival in Kesennuma proved to be false
 Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a television address on Friday: "We will rebuild Japan from scratch. We must all share this resolve."

He said the natural disaster and nuclear crisis were a "great test for the Japanese people", but exhorted them all to persevere.

The government has now conceded it was too slow in dealing with the nuclear crisis.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano accepted that "in hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and co-ordinating all that information and provided it faster".