Flow of radioactive water from plant reduced, say Tepco


TOKYO – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said it had reduced the flow of highly radioactive water out of a reactor, a possible sign of progress in an almost month-long battle to contain the world’s biggest nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century.

Samples of water used to cool the damaged reactor number two were five million times the legal limit of radioactivity, adding to fears that contaminants had spread far beyond the disaster zone.

The government said it was considering imposing radioactivity restrictions on seafood for the first time in the crisis after contaminated fish were found. India also became the first country to ban food imports from all areas of Japan over radiation fears.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said yesterday it had slowed the radioactive water flow from reactor number two at its Fukushima Daiichi plant. Earlier, desperate engineers had used little more than home remedies, including a mixture of sawdust, newspaper and concrete, to stem the flow of contaminated water.

“We can’t actually measure the amount but we have visually confirmed that the amount of water flowing out is decreasing, so we have reason to think our measures are working to a certain extent,” a Tepco official said.

Workers are still struggling to restart cooling pumps – which recycle the water – in four reactors damaged by last month’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Until those are fixed, they must pump in water from outside to prevent overheating and meltdowns. That process creates more contaminated water that has to be pumped out and stored somewhere else or released into the sea.

Tepco has offered “condolence money” to those affected in the Fukushima region where the plant is based. But one city rejected the money and local mayors who came to Tokyo to meet the prime minister, Naoto Kan, demanded far more help. Tepco said it had started paying token “condolence money” of 20 million yen (€166,000) each to local governments in towns near the reactors.

“We have borne the risks, co-existed and flourished with Tepco for more than 40 years, and all these years, we have fully trusted the myth that nuclear plants are absolutely safe,” said Katsuya Endo, mayor of Tomioka town.

He was one of eight Fukushima prefecture mayors who went to Mr Kan to demand compensation and support for employment, housing and education for the tens of thousands of evacuees.

There are 60,000 tonnes of highly contaminated water in the plant after workers frantically poured in sea water when fuel rods experienced partial meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11th. Tepco had to start releasing 11,500 tonnes of low-level radioactive sea water on Monday after it ran out of storage capacity for more highly contaminated water. The release will continue until Friday.

Asked about media reports that some countries had complained about Japan dumping the sea water back into the ocean, Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said Japan was trying to adhere to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to avoid contamination of the ocean. – (Reuters)