Power restored at Japan facility’s 6 reactors

Overheating spent fuel raises threat

A boat still rested on a building yesterday after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck off the coast of Japan. A boat still rested on a building yesterday after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck off the coast of Japan. (Yomiuri Shimbun/Associated Press)
By David Nakamura and Brian Vastag
Washington Post / March 23, 2011

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TOKYO — Crews at the heavily damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reached a milestone yesterday as they finished connecting external power to all six of the facility’s reactors, but an overheating spent-fuel pool brought a new setback and raised the threat of more radiation leaks.

The storage pool at the No. 2 reactor at the plant, which holds spent nuclear fuel rods, spewed steam late yesterday, forcing workers to pour more seawater on the building. They were trying to prevent water in the pool from boiling away, which would expose the fuel rods and release radiation into the air.

The US Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it will halt imports of dairy products and produce from the area of Japan where a nuclear reactor is leaking radiation. The FDA said those foods will be detained at entry and will not be sold to the public. Other foods imported from Japan, including seafood, still will be sold to the public but screened first for radiation.

Japanese workers still have to test the Dai-ichi plant’s internal electrical and cooling systems to see whether they can cool the overheated reactors automatically and prevent further meltdown and releases of radiation.

Crews have been using external pumps to send seawater into three of the facility’s six reactors after the facility’s cooling systems failed in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Concerned that the highly corrosive seawater might have damaged equipment, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, was “checking each electrical device on each unit,’’ said Taro Ishida, a representative of the Federation of Electric Power Companies in Japan, an industry group in Washington. In the meantime, the power company resumed rolling blackouts in many areas of Japan to conserve energy.

Yesterday, 12 days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck off the coast of Sendai in northeastern Japan, the National Police Academy said that 9,080 people had been killed and that 13,561 were missing.

There were four sizable aftershocks in Tokyo yesterday, including one large enough to trigger an early-warning system of TV and cellphone alerts.

With reconstruction costs pegged by the World Bank at up to $235 billion, Japanese government officials pledged to pump public money into the relief effort. The Kyodo News agency reported that Koichiro Gemba, the national policy minister, said three supplementary budgets could be needed in fiscal 2011 to fund the reconstruction effort.

In the battle to limit radiation from pools of uranium fuel, concrete-pumping trucks turned their arms on unit 4 and sprayed seawater directly into that reactor’s fuel pool. Meanwhile, water guns from the Tokyo Fire Department sprayed the pool in unit 3. Previous efforts to cool the pools included seawater drops from helicopters.

The used fuel pools still present the “highest concern’’ at the facility, said Graham Andrew, a technical adviser to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Emissions of high doses of radiation would hinder repair efforts. Work had been suspended the previous day because of concerns about smoke from two of the units.

At a news briefing, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that the government will analyze potential impacts on coastal fisheries, adding fish and shellfish to spinach and other vegetables on the list of foods that the government is monitoring for radioactive contamination. Adding to concerns about the food supply, the Japanese government reported detecting radioactive fallout in seawater near the facility and in soil 25 miles away. Tokyo Electric said that concentrations of radioactive iodine-131 just south of the facility were more than 100 times higher than the legal limit.

Many of the estimated 140,000 residents who lived within 12 1/2 miles of the facility are camped in evacuation centers such as the one visited yesterday by a high-ranking power company official, who apologized to evacuees by saying he was “sorry to have caused you trouble.’’

“We will put all our efforts toward putting things under control as soon as possible,’’ Norio Tsuzumi, the executive vice president of Tokyo Electric, told those living at a center in Tamura City in Fukushima.

A TV broadcast showed residents of the shelter peppering Tsuzumi with comments such as: “We won’t be able to farm anymore and will lose our source of income!’’

The evacuation center in Tamura City is one of hundreds that have been hastily organized to serve those displaced by the triple disaster.

In Saitama, a sprawling city north of Tokyo, about 2,300 people were sleeping in the wide hallways of the Saitama Super Arena and living off donated rice. Most come from the once-rural town of Futabamashi, next to the damaged Dai-Ichi plant.

The government ordered everyone to evacuate Futabamashi soon after the earthquake and chartered dozens of buses to Saitama. Families from other flooded towns and areas close to the plant made their own way south as well.

A small but welcome semblance of normalcy came yesterday for the families at the shelter; after nearly two weeks, their children could go to school.

Yukie Yamada, a professional education advocate, had heard about the shelter and offered to open a school. She brought her own worksheets and reading materials and recruited scores of volunteers, many of them retired teachers. On the first morning, more than 80 children signed in at the makeshift classroom in the arena’s basement.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, the IAEA said it was not receiving complete information about the state of the nuclear facility. In the United States, political and public opinion fallout from the disaster intensified.

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, released excerpts of an e-mail from the National Regulatory Commission that listed California’s two nuclear power plants as the only such facilities in the United States located in “high seismic hazard’’ zones. For a week, Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, have been pressing the NRC for safety reviews of the nuclear stations at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.

And a new survey documents declining support for nuclear power. Conducted by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute, the survey of 800 adults found that 53 percent support “a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction in the United States,’’ but only if energy conservation and wind and solar power can meet the country’s energy needs. In addition, 73 percent said they opposed federal loan guarantees for new nuclear facilities.

“It’s not at all surprising that support would have slipped, given the events of the past few weeks,’’ said Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group. “It’s going to be a challenging time for our industry, no question.’’ top stories on Twitter

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