Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Japan reactors' power lines connected

Japan reactors' power lines connected

Significant step taken in getting control of overheated reactors and storage pools

The central control room for the No. 3 reactor at the Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi power plant in September 2010. Workers were able to connect power to reactors at the site Tuesday. (Tokyo Electric Power/Reuters)

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the quake-damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima in northern Japan, says power lines have been hooked up to all six reactor units, though more work is needed before electricity can be turned on to help cooling the units.

Reconnecting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex to the electrical grid is a significant step in getting control of the overheated reactors and storage pools for spent fuels.

The company announced the hookup Tuesday. Still, it is likely to be days before the cooling systems can be powered up, since damaged equipment needs to be replaced and any volatile gas must be vented to avoid an explosion, reports say.

Earlier Tuesday, a pool for storing spent fuel in the tsunami-damaged plant in northern Japan was found to be heating up, with temperatures rising to the boiling point. Those temeratures now appear to be under control, reports indicate.

Nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters Tuesday that the high temperatures in the spent fuel pool are believed to have been the cause of steam that has wafted from Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 2 since Monday.

The hot storage pool is another complication in bringing the plant under control and ending a nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeast coast.

To date, more than 9,000 people are known to have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami, Japanese police said Tuesday.

The overall number of bodies collected so far is 9,079, police said. Another 13,500 people are missing. Officials expect the death toll will eventually top 18,000, with as many as 15,000 people estimated to have died in the hard-hit Miyagi prefecture alone. The disasters have displaced another 452,000, who are in shelters.

The updated figures came as the country grappled with the effects of the damage caused to the Fukushima nuclear plant. Efforts to stabilize the plant continued, while officials banned the sale of food that came from areas around Fukushima.

Fears about radioactivity have already cleared the area of residents and led to bans on the sale of some produce and milk from the region.

Now, seawater near the tsunami-crippled plant is showing elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium.

In response, the government is testing seafood.