[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] IHT.com Article: Japan nuclear plant shuttered, radioactive leak worse than thought
This IHT.com article has been sent to you by: email@example.com
Link found on IAEA news web site
Japan nuclear plant shuttered, radioactive leak worse than thought
The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The world's largest nuclear power plant was ordered closed indefinitely Wednesday amid growing anger over revelations that damage was much worse than initially announced after it suffered a near-direct hit by a powerful earthquake earlier this week.
Toyota and other major automakers, meanwhile, announced they would temporarily halt production because a local parts maker was heavily affected by the magnitude-6.8 quake, which killed 10 and left tens of thousands in the region without power or water.
The mayor of Kashiwazaki, a city of 93,500 on Japan's northern coastline, called in the head of the nation's biggest power company and ordered the damaged facility closed until its safety could be confirmed, escalating a showdown over a long list of problems at the plant, which is the world's biggest in output capacity.
"I am worried," Mayor Hiroshi Aida said in issuing the closure order. "The safety of the plant must be assured before it is reopened."
Repercussions were felt in the business world and overseas as well.
The temporary closure of auto parts maker Riken Corp.'s plant at Kashiwazaki forced Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries to scale back production.
Toyota, Japan's No. 1 automaker, will stop production lines at a dozen factories centered in central Aichi prefecture Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.
The International Atomic Energy Agency pressed Japan to undertake a thorough investigation of the damage to see if lessons could be applied to nuclear plants elsewhere.
Speaking in Malaysia, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said such a review was key and offered help from his Vienna-based agency.
"I would hope and I trust that Japan would be fully transparent in its investigation of that accident," he said. "The agency would be ready to join Japan through an international team in reviewing that accident and drawing the necessary lessons."
Officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the company running the plant, said the damage caused by the quake posed no danger to residents or to the environment.
But there was visible damage on the site, from cracked roads and buckled sidewalks to the charred outside wall of a transformer building.
TEPCO also warned Wednesday that the closure of the key nuclear reactor could trigger a power shortage in the summer months. The Tokyo-based company has asked six other power companies in Japan to consider providing emergency electricity to prepare for a surge in demand as people turn up their air conditioners in the summer heat, according to TEPCO spokesman Hiroshi Itagaki.
"To be honest, it's a mess," said TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata.
He said fears of radiation were unfounded, however.
"We will conduct an investigation from the ground up. But I think fundamentally we have confirmed that our safety measures worked," he said. "It is hard to make everything go perfectly."
Though Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, officials at the plant admitted that they had not foreseen such a powerful temblor hitting the facility.
New data from aftershocks of Monday's offshore quake suggested a fault line may run underneath the power plant itself, which was only 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the epicenter.
The plant's deputy superintendent, Masakazu Minamidate, said the strongest known quake in the region previously was a magnitude 6.5.
"This was stronger than we expected," he said.
He said an onshore survey of fault lines had been completed, but not one offshore. While it was unclear how close the line came to the plant, Meteorological Agency official Osamu Kamigaichi said it may stretch under its grounds.
Japan's Coast Guard said it would launch a study of the ocean floor off Kashiwazaki starting Friday to better map fault lines in the area.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which generates 8.2 million kilowatts of electricity, has been plagued with mishaps. In 2001, a radioactive leak was found in a turbine room.
On Tuesday, TEPCO shocked the nation by releasing a list of dozens of problems triggered by the quake.
TEPCO, Japan's largest power company, said the plant suffered a fire, broken pipes, water leaks and spills of radioactive waste. It also announced that a leak of radioactive water into the Sea of Japan was 50 percent bigger than announced Monday night.
Spokesman Jun Oshima said the amount was still "one-billionth of Japan's legal limit."
The company also said later Wednesday that about 400 barrels containing low-level nuclear waste tipped over at a storage facility at the plant, revising an earlier figure of 100.
The impact knocked the lids off about 40 barrels, spilling their contents onto the floor, TEPCO spokesman Tsutomu Uehara told reporters in Tokyo. But Uehara said no radiation has been detected outside the facility.
Similar concerns of a nuclear accident were echoed across the country, which depends on 55 nuclear power plants for about 30 percent of its electricity needs.
"Japan has a dense population so the human damage would be major here. There would be many deaths," Hideyuki Ban, a director of the civil group Citizen's Nuclear Information Center, told reporters Wednesday. "I think that a quake-prone country should phase out its use of nuclear power."
Residents filed lawsuits claiming the government had failed to conduct sufficient safety reviews when it approved construction of the plant in the 1970s. But in 2005, a Tokyo court ruled there was no error in the government safety reviews.
As of Wednesday night, several thousand Kashiwazaki residents remained in gymnasiums and civic centers because their homes had either been destroyed or damaged or because they remained without water.
Search teams pulled a tenth body out of the rubble Wednesday night, and one man was missing.