Japan prepares to restart work at nuclear plant

 

Surging radiation levels forced Japan to order emergency workers to temporarily withdraw from its crippled nuclear plant today, losing time in a desperate operation to cool the overheating reactors — the most urgent crisis from last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami.


The technicians were dousing the nuclear reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to cool them when they had to retreat in the late morning. The plant's operator ordered the technicians back to the site in the evening after radiation levels subsided.



In the hours in between, it was not clear what if any operations continued. Officials gave only sparse information about reactors.



But conditions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant appeared to be worsening. White steam-like clouds drifted up from one reactor which, the government said, likely emitted the burst of radiation that led to the workers' withdrawal. The plant's operator reported a fire at another reactor for the second time in two days.



At one point, national broadcaster NHK showed military helicopters lifting off to survey radiation levels above the complex, preparing to dump water onto the most troubled reactors in a desperate effort to cool them down. The defence ministry later said those flights were a drill, and it had no plans to make an airborne water drop.



"The anxiety and anger being felt by people in Fukushima have reached a boiling point," the governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, fumed in an interview with NHK. He criticised preparations for an evacuation if conditions worsen and said centres already housing people moved from nearby the plant do not have enough hot meals and basic necessities.



The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, a blast of black seawater that pulverised Japan's northeastern coastline. The quake was one of the strongest recorded in history.



Millions of people struggled for a fifth day with little food, water or heat, and already chilly temperatures turned to snow in many areas. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor in school gymnasiums.



Nearly 3,700 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb over 10,000 since several thousand more are listed as missing.



In an extremely rare address to the nation, Emperor Akihito expressed condolences and urged Japan not to give up.



"It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead," said Akihito, 77, a figure deeply respected across the country. "I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy."



He also expressed his worries over the nuclear crisis, saying: "With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse."



Since the quake and wave hit, authorities have been struggling to avert an environmental catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles north of Tokyo. The tsunami knocked out the backup diesel generators needed to keep nuclear fuel cool at the plant's six reactors, setting off the atomic crisis.



In the city of Fukushima, about 40 miles inland from the nuclear complex, hundreds of harried government workers, police officers and others struggled to stay on top of the situation in a makeshift command centre.



An entire floor of one of the prefecture's office buildings had been taken over by people tracking evacuations, power needs, death tolls and food supplies.



In one room, uniformed soldiers evaluated radiation readings on maps posted across a wall. In another, senior officials were in meetings throughout the day, while nuclear power industry representatives held impromptu briefings before rows of media cameras.



Today's radiation spike was believed to have come from Unit 3, where workers are struggling with a fuel storage pond believed to be leaking radiation, as well as possible damage to the containment vessel — the thick concrete armour built around the reactor — that would allow radiation to escape.



"The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said this morning at briefing aired on television, as smoke billowed above the complex. "Because of the radiation risk we are on standby."



With no workers on site, efforts to cool the reactors likely ceased altogether, said Michael Friedlander, a former nuclear power plant operator who worked at a General Electric boiling water reactor in the United States similar to the stricken ones in Japan.



"They're in right now is what's called a feed-and-bleed mode. In order to keep the core covered and keep the reactor cool they have to feed in water," said Friedlander, who is currently based in Hong Kong. "It's something that they physically have to be present to do."



Elevated levels of radiation were detected well outside the 20-mile emergency area around the plants. In Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima, officials said radiation levels were about 300 times normal levels by late morning.



A little radiation was also detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.



Given the reported radiation levels, John Price, an Australian-based nuclear safety expert, said he saw few health risks for the general public so far. He was concerned for the workers, who he said were almost certainly working in full body suits and breathing through respirators. The workers at the forefront of the fight — a core team of about 180 — had been regularly rotated in and out of the danger zone to minimize their radiation exposure.



Price said he was surprised by how little information the Japanese were sharing.



"We don't know even the fundamentals of what's happening, what's wrong, what isn't working. We're all guessing," he said. "I would have thought they would put on a panel of experts every two hours."



Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help, though he did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether to accept offers of help from other countries.



There are six reactors at the plant. Units 1, 2 and 3, which were operating last week, shut down automatically when the quake hit. Since then, all three have been rocked by explosions. Compounding the problems, on Tuesday a fire broke out in Unit 4's fuel storage pond, an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool, causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere.



Units 4, 5 and 6 were shut at the time of the quake, but even offline reactors have nuclear fuel — either inside the reactors or in storage ponds — that need to be kept cool.



Meanwhile, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency estimated that 70 per cent of the rods have been damaged at the No. 1 reactor.



Japan's national news agency, Kyodo, said that 33 percent of the fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor were damaged and that the cores of both reactors were believed to have partially melted.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Media, Advertising and Communications Manager

£55000 - £58000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...

English Teacher needed for long term cover

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay TBA: Randstad Education Reading...

Primary General Cover Teachers needed

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past