Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Japan Nuclear Crisis:TEPCO still working on plan to end crisis

The operator of Japan's crippled nuclear plant said on Wednesday it was still working on a detailed plan to end the country's nuclear crisis a month after it began, as tests showed radiation levels in the sea near the plant had spiked.
Engineers moved a step closer to emptying highly radioactive water from one of the six crippled reactors, which would allow them to start repairing the cooling system crucial to regaining control of the reactors.
Japan's nuclear safety agency said the latest tests showed radiation nearly doubled last week, to 23 times above legal limits, in the sea off Minamisoma city near the plant.
A series of strong aftershocks this week has rattled eastern Japan, slowing the recovery effort at the Fukushima Daiichi plant due to temporary evacuations of workers and power outages.
The beleaguered president of operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) (9501.T) said the situation at the nuclear plant, wrecked by a 15-metre tsunami on March 11, had stabilised.
But TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu said the firm was still preparing a blueprint to end the crisis, now rated on a par with the world's worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
"As instructed by Prime Minister Kan we are working out the specific details of how to handle the situation so they can be disclosed as soon as possible," a relaxed-looking Shimizu told a news conference in Tokyo.
Shimizu has been largely absent from the recovery operation, spending time in hospital and only visiting the area on Monday. He refused to comment on public calls for his resignation, and again apologised to the Japanese people for the crisis.
"We are making the utmost effort to bring the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to a cold shutdown and halt the spread of radiation," he said.
TEPCO's Tokyo head office has been the target of angry protests over the nuclear crisis and authorities took no chances on Wednesday, with riot trucks and security officers guarding the front gate during the news conference.
Latest data shows much more radiation leaked from the Daiichi plant in the early days of the crisis than first thought, prompting officials to rate it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster.
But experts were quick to point out the two crises were vastly different in terms of radiation contamination.
There have been fears of contamination among Japan's neighbours, but China said the impact there had been small, noting the radiation was just one percent of what it had experienced from Chernobyl.
The toll of the disaster is rising. More than 13,000 people have been confirmed dead, and on Wednesday the government cut its outlook for the economy, in recession for almost 15 years, for the first time in six months.
"The biggest risks, or uncertain factors for the economy, are when power supplies will recover, whether the nuclear situation will keep from worsening," Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano said.

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