Japanese workers at quake-hit N-plant building steel wall

Workers at the quake- hit Fukushima nuclear plant started building a steel barrier to prevent toxic water from seeping into the sea.

Updated: Apr 09, 2011, 20:15 PM IST

Tokyo/Fukushima: Struggling hard to contain
Japan`s worst atomic crisis in decades, workers at the quake-
hit Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday started building a steel
barrier to prevent toxic water from seeping into the sea,
while authorities banned planting rice in soil contaminated by
radiation.

In the first high-level visit to the crippled plant in
Fukushima prefecture, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister
Banri Kaieda met workers trying to stabilise the facility,
which was damaged by the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and
tsunami that left nearly 30,000 people dead or unaccounted
for. The minister also met Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato.

The plant`s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company
(TEPCO), also continued to pump nitrogen, an inert gas, into
the No.1 reactor to prevent more hydrogen blasts at the
facility, which was rocked by two such radiation-leaking
explosions last month.

Its engineers launched the task of building a 120-metre
wide wall of steel sheets to form a `silt curtain` for the
radioactive material.

The workers also stepped up efforts to remove highly
radioactive water from a tunnel of reactor No.2, as they tried
to cool their cores and plug leaks.

TEPCO said contaminated water in a concrete tunnel of the
Number 2 reactor has risen 10 centimetres since leakage of the
water into the ocean stopped on Wednesday, national
broadcaster NHK reported.

Along with efforts to stop the leakage, the utility also
released about 9,000 tonnes of water containing relatively
low-level radioactive materials into the sea to free up room
to pool more contaminated water that has flooded the No. 2
reactor`s turbine building and a tunnel outside it.

TEPCO said it will fly a small unmanned helicopter to
survey the plant, possibly from tomorrow, depending on the
weather. The drone is expected to capture images of damaged
installations at the Nos. 1 to 4 reactors, Kyodo news agency
reported.

With the world`s worst nuclear accident since the
Chernobyl disaster of the 1986 dragging on, the government
woes were compounded with residents of towns surrounding the
crippled nuclear plants starting to return homes, in defiance
of warnings to stay away.

Authorities said the government will restrict farmers
from planting rice near the nuclear complex where the soil has
been contaminated due to high radiation.

Farm Minister Michihiko Kano said the government will
discuss with prefectural officials whether to impose similar
restrictions on vegetables.

The government`s nuclear safety agency asked the nation`s
power suppliers to have at least two backup diesel generators
on standby even when a reactor is in a stable condition called
"cold shutdown" or undergoing fuel replacement.

The move came after all three diesel generators failed to
function at the Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori
prefecture at one point following the 7.1-magnitude aftershock
late Thursday night, the strongest to hit Japan`s northeast
since the March 11 earthquake.

Japanese government also vowed to contribute to making
nuclear power generation safer in the world during a meeting
with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) in Jakarta.

"We will thoroughly examine the latest (nuclear)
accident, make it a lesson, and we are determined to
contribute to strengthening the safety of international
nuclear power generation," Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto
told the meeting, delivering a message by Prime Minister Naoto
Kan.

"We are making our utmost efforts and bringing together
wisdom from home and abroad so as to stabilise the situation
(at the crippled plant) as soon as possible," Matsumoto quoted
Kan as saying, according to Kyodo.

Survivors of last month`s massive tsunami have started
moving into temporary housing in Rikuzentakata in Iwate
prefecture.

The new residents of 36 prefabricated units built on the
premises of a junior high school brought their belongings from
the shelters after winning a highly competitive lottery draw
involving 1,160 groups of applicants earlier this week.

Eiki Kumagai, 43, expressed his delight at moving into a
unit together with his wife and their two children. "I`m
happy...My next step will be to look for a job," he was quoted
as saying by Kyodo.

He used to run an "izakaya", a Japanese-style bar, but it
was washed away by the massive tsunami following the March 11
earthquake.

Meanwhile, a US marine team having expertise in
radiological disaster response conducted a drill today at
Yokota Air Base in Tokyo to prepare itself for assisting Japan
on request in dealing with its worst nuclear crisis.

PTI