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Four More Quakes Hit Fukushima

Four More Quakes Hit Fukushima thumbnail

Early morning earthquakes rattled Japan’s crippled nuclear plant as engineers restored lighting at a control room and endeavored to connect power cables needed to cool the reactors.

Four quakes of 5-magnitude or greater struck eastern Honshu, Japan, within an hour starting at 7:12 a.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website. There was no impact on the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant itself, the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in a statement.

Restoring power is key to ending the crisis at four unstable reactors that have leaked radiation into the ocean and forced the government to evacuate thousands of local residents. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been battling to prevent a meltdown at the plant after losing electricity that helps circulate cooling water to the units following the March 11 temblor and tsunami.

Lights are on in the control room at the No. 3 reactor and there is some lighting working at No. 4, the company said today. Reactors No. 5 and 6 are already supplied with electricity.

“They’ve made considerable progress bringing equipment to the plant and restoring power,” David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said on a conference call with reporters. “But they’re not out of the woods yet. They are working with razor-thin margins.”

Decaying Fuel Rods

The decay of radioactive fuel rods containing uranium and plutonium at the plant was suspected by company officials five days after the earthquake and tsunami. Seventy percent of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor may be damaged and 33 percent at the No. 2 unit, Tokyo Electric said on March 16.

The first four reactors at Fukushima will likely have to be decommissioned after being damaged by seawater brought in to keep them cool, Lochbaum said. It’s unclear whether reactors No. 5 and 6 will be able to operate again, he said.

“On March 10 they had a multibillion-dollar asset that generated a lot of electricity,” Lochbaum said. “On March 11 they had a multibillion-dollar liability that’s going to cost a lot to clean up.”

Japanese stocks slumped, with the Nikkei 225 (NKY) Stock Average paring the biggest two-day advance since April 2009. The gauge fell as much as 2.1 percent and traded 1.3 percent lower at 9,479.85 as of 10:12 a.m. in Tokyo.

Food Screening

Five kinds of radioactive materials released by damaged fuel rods were detected in the sea, including iodine-131, cesium-134 and cobalt, according to Tokyo Electric. Radiation in food is measured in Becquerel, a gauge of the strength of radioactivity in those materials. The prescribed safe limit for I-131 in vegetables is set at 2,000 Becquerel (Bq) per kilogram and 500 Bq/kg for radioactive cesium.

Screening food for radiation is being stepped up as Japan seeks to calm a population that eats more fish than any other nation except China. Shih-Yew Chen, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, said the levels found so far in milk and vegetables could cause a slight increase in the number of cancer cases.

“A person would really have to continue to eat that food grown locally that’s contaminated,” he said.

Japan consumes about 9 million metric tons of seafood a year, according to the website of the Sea Around Us Project, a collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the Pew Environment Group. China ranked first with consumption of 13.6 million metric tons and the U.S. was third at 4.7 million tons.

Contaminated Vegetables

Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered a halt to shipments of leafy vegetables from Fukushima prefecture, his office said today. He also stopped shipments of milk and parsley from neighboring Ibaraki.

The health ministry earlier advised against eating leafy vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower produced near the damaged nuclear power plant. People eating vegetables from Fukushima for the past 10 days will have ingested half of the natural level of a year’s worth of radiation, the ministry said in a statement.

The death toll from Japan’s worst postwar disaster climbed to 9,199 as of 11 p.m. yesterday, with 13,786 people missing, according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo. The earthquake and tsunami devastated the country’s northern coastline and forced several hundred thousand people to evacuate.


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