New quake causes power outages, toxic water spill in Japan

Last Updated: Friday, April 8, 2011 - 20:20

Tokyo/Fukushima: Adding to Japan`s misery,
the strongest aftershock since the devastating March 11 quake
and tsunami killed at least four people, knocked out power to
millions of houses and sparked fresh concerns about the
radiation-leaking Fukushima nuclear plant where the crisis is
far from over.

The latest tremor, whose magnitude was revised to 7.1
from 7.4, rocked the northern and central parts of Miyagi
Prefecture, which was the worst affected by last month`s mega
quake and tsunami, at 11:32 pm last night.

Radioactive water spilled from pools holding spent
nuclear fuel rods at the Onagawa power plant in Miyagi
following the aftershock, the nuclear safety agency was quoted
as saying by Kyodo news agency today.

However, the powerful quake did not hamper the ongoing
work to restore reactor cooling systems at the crippled
Fukushima plant, though workers were briefly evacuated after a
tsunami advisory issued, the operator Tokyo Electric Power
Company (TEPCO) said.

It said no new irregularities were detected in radiation
readings or other indicators, except for the surface
temperature of the No.1 reactor at the plant, where
engineerings have been battling for nearly a month to bring
the situation under control.

Before the quake, the reading stood at 223 degrees
Celsius. Just after the tremor, it rose to about 260 degrees
Celsius at midnight -- but fell back to 246 degrees Celsius
this afternoon, according to national broadcaster NHK.

After the tsunami warning issued for the area was lifted,
the workers inspected the site and resumed their critical task
to cool the overheating reactors at the facility.

Last night`s quake triggered panic among residents
already being sheltered at local facilities following the last
month magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that has left nearly
30,000 people dead or unaccounted for in Japan`s northeast.

Two men, aged 85 and 79 respectively, died in Miyagi
while a 63-year-old woman was killed in the neighbouring
prefecture of Yamagata after the tremor, according to the Fire
and Disaster Management Agency. An 83-year-old woman in Miyagi
was reportedly taken to hospital immediately after the
earthquake and later confirmed dead.

About 140 people were also injured, Jiji Press reported.

The National Police Agency said five buildings were
totally or partially destroyed in Miyagi and three each burnt
down in Miyagi and Iwate.

Tohoku Electric Power Company said as many as four
million homes lost power at one point and, despite its
restoration effort, the outage continued across Aomori and
Iwate and in some areas in Tohoku prefectures till this
morning, affecting 3.04 million homes.

Some external power supply was disrupted at suspended
nuclear plants and a spent fuel reprocessing facility in
Miyagi and Aomori prefectures, causing them to use backup
generators.

A spent nuclear fuel disposal facility in the village of
Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, lost external power supply and
switched to an emergency generator but power was restored this
morning, according to the government`s nuclear safety agency.

The Higashidori nuclear power plant in another village in
Aomori also got power from an emergency generator after last
night`s quake, but its external power supply was restored
early this morning. There is also no information that
radioactive materials had leaked due to the aftershock.

Higashidori`s only reactor was undergoing regular
maintenance at the time of the temblor and its fuel rods were
not inside the core but stored in a spent fuel pool, the
Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

The spent fuel pools at the Onagawa plant and Higashidori
nuclear power station in Aomori Prefecture lost their cooling
functions for 20 to 80 minutes after the quake, but their
temperature hardly rose, it said.

A small amount of contaminated water spilled on the floor
inside the buildings at all three reactors at the Onagawa
plant, Kyodo said.

In all, water spilled or leaked at eight sections of the
plant as a result of last night`s quake, according to Tohoku
Electric.

As much as 3.8 liters of water leaked at one of them,
with the highest level of radioactive isotope -- 5,410
bequerels per kg -- found in the spilled water on the floor
beside a spent fuel pool in the building housing the No.1
reactor.

TEPCO, whose workers have been scrambling hard
to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear facility since the March 11
quake, said no new abnormalities have developed in any of the
six reactors at the radiation-leaking power station and none
of is workers there were hurt following last night`s tremor.

Its remarks came as engineers continued to pump fresh
water into the No.1 to No.3 reactors to prevent them from
overheating and inject nitrogen into the No.1 unit to avert a
possible hydrogen blast.

TEPCO also continued to release relatively low-level
radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean to make room for far
more contaminated water that has flooded the basement of the
No.2 reactor`s turbine building. The utility would discharge
8,000 tonnes of contaminated water.

The power company today solidified the earth around a
cracked pit, from which highly radioactive water had leaked
into the sea before it was successfully plugged by injecting
sodium silicate or "water glass."

After the leakage stopped, the company observed a 7-cm
rise in the level of contaminated water in a vertical tunnel
connected to the No.2 reactor building, from which the tainted
water is believed to have originated.

Meanwhile, Toshiba Corp., one of the two Japanese reactor
makers, has proposed decommissioning four troubled nuclear
reactors at the Fukushima power station in about 10 years,
industry sources were quoted as saying by Kyodo.

Toshiba filed the proposal with TEPCO and the Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry after compiling it with US nuclear
energy firms, including its subsidiary Westinghouse Electric
Company, they said.

Another Japanese reactor maker, Hitachi Ltd., is expected
to file its own proposal in a tie-up with General Electric Co.
of the United States, the sources said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, meanwhile, indicated
that it was difficult for the government to map out a time
schedule for decommissioning, saying authorities are seeking
help from experts, scholars and companies specialising in such
work.

"The government wants to show a specific road map (on how
to go about the decommissioning), but the reactors now are not
fully stable," Edano said.

He also said that the government will allow shipments of
some produce from areas near the crippled Fukushima plant as
they are now safe enough to consume.

The restrictions on raw milk from Kitakata and six other
towns in Fukushima Prefecture, and spinach and `kakina` leafy
vegetable in Gunma Prefecture will be lifted, he said.

The government will, however, restrict farmers from
planting rice near the nuclear complex.

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

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would visit the
tsunami-ravaged northeast to meet American troops engaged in
relief efforts when she visits Japan next week, according to
Jiji Press.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had also come to the
Japanese capital after the earthquake, but no foreign leader
has so far visited the devastated northeast.

PTI



First Published: Friday, April 8, 2011 - 20:20

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