Power restored at Japan reactor

 

Engineers have restored power one of the crippled reactors at the Fukushima nuclear complex in northeast Japan as they race avert disaster at the plant.

Adding to the good news, an 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson were found alive under the rubble in the devastated city of Ishinomaki, nine days after the disaster, NHK public TV said.

Some 300 engineers have been struggling inside the danger zone to salvage the six-reactor Fukushima plant in the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago. "I think the situation is improving step by step," deputy chief cabinet secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama told a news conference.

The workers, braving high radiation levels in suits sealed in duct tape, managed to connect power to the reactor, crucial to their attempts to cool it down and limit the leak of deadly radiation, Kyodo news agency said. It added that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) aimed to restore the control room function, lights and the cooling at reactor1, which is connected to reactor 2 by cable.

Rising cases of contaminated vegetables, dust and water have raised new fears and the government said it will decide tomorrow on whether to restrict consumption and shipments of food from the quake zone.

The official death toll stands at 8, 450. Police in Miyagi prefecture, the worst-hit area, said the number of dead there would exceed 15,000. Heavy losses were also suffered in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. Another 12, 931 people are still missing, according to the National Police Agency of Japan.

An 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson were rescued from their damaged home today in the city of Ishinomaki, nine days after the northeast was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami, NHK public TV said.

NHK quoted police in Miyagi prefecture as saying the two were weak but conscious. The boy, Jin Abe, had low body temperature, was shaking and had no feeling in his left ankle, the reporter said. His grandmother Sumi Abe was taken to hospital.

NHK said the two had been trapped in their kitchen after the earthquake and survived by eating yoghurt and other food in the refrigerator. The grandson eventually made it to the roof and waved down a rescue helicopter.

Yesterday, Kyodo news agency and the military reported the "miracle rescue" of a young man pulled from the rubble of his home, only to find out that he had been in an evacuation centre beforehand and just returned to his home.

The unprecedented crisis will cost the world's third largest economy as much as $248 billion and require Japan's biggest reconstruction push since after the second World War Two. It has also set back nuclear power plans the world over.

Economics minster Kaoru Yosano put the economic damage at above 20 trillion yen ($248 billion), which was his estimate of the total economic impact of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe. He said government spending was likely to exceed the 3.3 trillion yen Tokyo spent after Kobe, which up to now has been considered the world's costliest natural disaster.

Markets will be closed tomorrow for a public holiday.

Encouragingly, the most critical reactor at Fukushima - reactor 3, which contains highly toxic plutonium - stabilised after fire trucks doused it for hours with hundreds of tonnes of water. "We believe the water is having a cooling effect," a Tepco official said. Workers aim to reach the troubled reactor 4 tomorrow or on Tuesday.

If successful, that could be a turning point in a crisis. If not, drastic measures may be required such as burying the plant in sand and concrete, as happened at Chernobyl in 1986, though experts warn that could take many months and the fuel had to be cooled first.

On the negative side, evidence has begun emerging of radiation leaks from the plant, including into food and water. Though public fear of radiation runs deep, and anxiety has spread as far as the Pacific-facing side of the United States, Japanese officials say levels so far are not alarming.

Some airports in Asia have been checking passengers arriving from Japan for signs of radiation, including Jakarta airport where officials were using Geiger counters on all those coming on flights from Japan.

Traces exceeding Japanese safety standards were found in milk from a farm about 30km from the plant and spinach grown in neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture. Tiny levels of radioactive iodine have also been found in tap water in Tokyo, about 240km to the south. Many tourists and expatriates have already left and residents are generally staying indoors.

Harmless levels of iodine and caesium were also found in northern Ibaraki and in dust and particles in the greater Tokyo area, the government said today.

The fresh reports did not appear to have much effect on people in the metropolis, one of the world's biggest cities with a population of about 13 million. About 257,000 households in the north still have no electricity and at least one million lack running water.