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Asia-pacific

Measured progress at Fukushima nuclear plant

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-24

Hopes lifted after technicians restored power to a reactor at Japan's tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant on Thursday, thereby providing access to two crucial control rooms previously cut off by high levels of radiation and lack of light.

AFP - Technicians restored power to the reactor number one control room of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant Thursday, even as white steam wafted from four reactors at the tsunami-damaged seaside facility.

The incremental progress means workers can now use two crucial control rooms -- at reactors one and three -- which they were earlier forced to abandon after a series of explosions and amid strong radiation and in darkness.

Japan's quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The March 11 quake and tsunami cut electricity to the plant and knocked out backup systems, causing the cooling systems to fail. This left the fuel rods inside to heat up and evaporate water, threatening a full meltdown.

Fire engines have hosed down the reactors and topped up spent fuel rod pools to prevent the uranium and plutonium from being exposed to the air -- desperate steps intended to stop a major disaster, but also creating radioactive steam.

Reconnecting the reactor control rooms was seen as a key step as workers hope to restart the original cooling systems.

Previously they had to work with flashlights, and without air-conditioning that would have extracted some radiation.

"The light went on in the control room of the number one reactor at 11:30 am (0230 GMT)," a nuclear safety agency official said. "But we are still unsure whether this means the cooling system will be restored."

Work was hampered by black smoke, thought to be from burning lubricants, from the number three reactor Wednesday that forced workers to evacuate.

They resumed work on Thursday, hoping to restore a water pump later in the day that would inject fresh water into the fuel pool, instead of the seawater that firefighters have been using, a nuclear safety agency official said.

White steam was seen wafting from reactors one to four. While the causes remained unknown, officials said no rise in radioactivity had been detected.

"It is not unusual to have steam when the fuel pool is being watered," the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, told reporters.

"While the situation remains unpredictable, we will renew our push to keep the pressure from building up inside the (reactor) containment vessels and through our cooling operations."

The temperature inside the number one reactor had at one point this week spiked to 400 degrees Celsius (752 Fahrenheit) -- up from the designated temperature of 302 degrees -- before stabilising Thursday.

The plant is located 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

The government has declared an exclusion zone with a radius of 20 kilometres around the power station and evacuated tens of thousands of people, while telling those within 20 to 30 kilometres to stay indoors.
 

Date created : 2011-03-24

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