Japan to scrap four of the six stricken nuclear reactors at Fukushima plant

Officials consider entombing plant as workers battle radiation

Japan has conceded defeat in its frantic three-week battle to save a crippled nuclear plant, with the announcement that four of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex will be shut down. In a further blow, tests on seawater near the plant showed radiation levels well above the legal limit, heightening fears of widening nuclear contamination.

The plants' fate was announced on live television yesterday by Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), which has been widely criticised for its handling of Japan's worst nuclear crisis.

"Honestly speaking, work to effectively stabilise the temperature of the reactors has yet to begin," said Mr Katsumata. "Looking at the situation objectively, the company will have no choice but to shut them down for good."

He said that "basic functions have been retained" at two remaining reactors and hinted that they might be saved. The was immediately squashed by top government spokesman Yukio Edano who said the complex would have to be scrapped. "It is very clear, looking at the social circumstances."

At least one of the reactors has been leaking radiation, contaminating food, milk and water and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people within a 30km (19-mile) radius of the complex. Small quantities of the radiation have been detected as far away as Glasgow. Many countries have introduced radiation checks on Japanese produce and several have banned it altogether.

The crisis has wiped more than two-thirds of the share value off Tepco, which has been forced to seek emergency loans of nearly 2 trillion yen to avoid bankruptcy and nationalisation, according to Kyodo News agency. Its Masataka Shimizu, who has largely disappeared from public view since the meltdown began after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant's cooling systems, is reportedly in hospital, suffering from hypertension and overwork.

The state broadcaster NHK said last night that engineers might cover the Fukushima reactors with giant tarpaulins to stem the flow of radiation. Some specialists have suggested that the plant could also be sealed in a "concrete coffin", as used in Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The new measures have been prompted by fears that highly contaminated water in the bowels of the complex is leaking into the sea. Small quantities of plutonium have also been found in soil near the plant, probably from melted fuel rods. Japan's nuclear safety agency said that radioactive iodine 3,555 times safe limits had been detected in seawater about 300 metres from the plant. Engineers and Self-Defence Force troops have been using sandbags and concrete blocks to stop more water leaking into the ocean.

Iodine 131 is widely thought to have caused a sharp spike in thyroid cancers among children after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, probably via contaminated milk. The nuclear safety agency says that the substance deteriorates quickly and poses no long-term risks, but Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, urged the government to widen the 30km evacuation zone around the plant, saying it had detected radiation levels of up to 10 microsieverts-an-hour 40 km away. "The current evacuation zone does not match the reality of the risk," said the organisation's radiation expert Jan van de Putte in Tokyo.

NHK has reported that radioactive cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, has been found at 2,200 times normal levels in soil about 40km from the Fukushima plant, while officials from the United Nations nuclear agency said yesterday that radiation levels outside the exclusion zone were about two times higher than levels at which the agency recommends evacuation. They carried out tests at Iitate village, about 40 kilometres from the nuclear complex.

Tepco's Mr Katsumata yesterday apologised for what he called the "trouble and anxiety" his utility had caused. "It is extremely regrettable that the people in the vicinity of the plant are suffering from the consequences, both physical and psychological," he said. Some local people welcomed the news that the facility would be scrapped. "I think it would be for the best," said Hironobu Matsumoto, who lives about 25km from the plant. "It is difficult to say what affect the radiation might have on our health."

Goldman Sachs denies rumours of sacking threats

US investment bank Goldman Sachs yesterday denied unsourced stories circulating on various websites that it had told staff they would be fired if they decided to leave Tokyo on safety grounds. Several companies have faced the dilemma, however, of whether or not to withdraw staff as concerns over the Fukushima plant increase.

Private equity group Blackstone is one of the few companies to publicly comment on its advice to staff, saying that while its Tokyo office remains open, it has opened a "temporary facility off site for both employees and their families".

Several companies have stuck to their national foreign ministry advice. In France, Areva, the nuclear power group, said several days ago that the French government was advising that nationals leave the Japanese capital. It is not known how many of the group's staff have followed the advice.

Barclays is among the banks taking a sympathetic view of ex-pat employee requests to take limited time off to help their families return home, but it has set up no formal programme of assistance and expects its employees to stay at their posts.

Meanwhile, a number of Japanese companies based overseas are beginning to suffer from the crisis. Toyota and Honda, the carmakers, are facing supply problems as their domestic factories struggle to meet foreign demand.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

£30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum