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Engineers continue Fukushima struggles as more smoke emerges

Steam-like vapours emerge from one reactor, while hazy smoke emerges from another, as workers restore power to the plant.

Smoke is seen emerging from one of the damaged reactor buildings at the Fukushima I power plant.
Smoke is seen emerging from one of the damaged reactor buildings at the Fukushima I power plant.
Image: AP

WORK HAS RESUMED on efforts to restore full electricity supplies to the Fukushima I nuclear power plant, despite worrying signs that new smoke and steam was beginning to rise from two of its reactors.

A hazy white smoke was seen coming from reactor number 2, while steam-like vapours emerged from Reactor 3, as workers connected emergency electricity supplies to the plant in efforts to restore the main cooling systems knocked out by the earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11.

Work has continued despite brief periods where workers were again forced to evacuate the plant due to higher-than-permissible radioactivity levels being observed and due to the unexplained smoke discharges.

Power was restored overnight to reactor 1 at the facility, after having previously been returned to reactor 2; work is continuing to ensure that the other reactors receive new power supplies.

Reactor 3 will be the priority for that work, being the only other reactor at the stricken plant which was ‘live’ at the time of the earthquake.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company said that the higher levels – registered in the seawater surrounding the plant – would not cause adverse health conditions, given that people are not likely to drink much seawater.

Nonetheless, government spokesman Yukio Edano said the government would increase its monitoring of the safety of marine food products.

The only occasion where the direct ingestion of any product could potentially cause ill-health was in the case of tap water from one village close to the power plant, and even then, advice to steer clear of that water source was precautionary, Edano said.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog said, meanwhile, that attention had now turned to a common storage pool for spent fuel, which has been periodically sprayed with water so as to ensure no exposure of nuclear material above the surface.

The country’s economy minister has also insisted that the long-term future of nuclear power will not be compromised by the ongoing problems at Fukushima I, asserting that nuclear power would remain the primary energy source for Japan for the foreseeable future.

The death toll from the tsunami and earthquake has nearly hit 9,000; when adding the number of people still missing, that total approaches 21,000.

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Gavan Reilly

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