TOKYO — The operator of Japan's leaking nuclear plant says power lines have been hooked up to all six reactor units, though more work is needed before electricity can run through them.
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The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, announced the hookup Tuesday but cautioned that workers must check pumps, motors and other equipment before the electricity is turned on.
Reconnecting the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex to the electrical grid is a significant step in getting control of the overheated reactors and storage pools for spent fuels. But it is likely to be days if not longer before the cooling systems can be powered up, since damaged equipment needs to be replaced and any volatile gas must be vented to avoid an explosion.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) – Weariness and anxiety percolated Tuesday among people who left their homes near Japan's radiation-shedding nuclear complex as workers tried urgently to cool an overheated storage pool and methodically to reconnect critical cooling systems.
In another day of progress and setbacks, a pool holding spent nuclear fuel heated up to around the boiling point, a nuclear safety official said. With water bubbling away, there is a risk that more radioactive steam could spew out. "We cannot leave this alone and we must take care of it as quickly as possible," said the official, Hidehiko Nishiyama.
It wasn't clear if crews had to retreat to stop work hooking up electrical systems and checking machinery to power up cooling systems.
People at Fukushima city's main evacuation center waited in long lines for bowls of hot noodle soup. A truck delivered toilet paper and blankets. Many among the 1,400 people living in the crowded gymnasium came from communities near the nuclear plant and worry about radiation and weary of the daily routine of the displaced.
"It was an act of God," said Yoshihiro Amano, a grocery store owner whose house is 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the reactors. "It won't help anything to get angry. But we are worried. We don't know if it will takes days, months or decades to go home. Maybe never. We are just starting to be able to think ahead to that."
Public sentiment is such that Fukushima's governor rejected a meeting offered by the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, the utility that runs the nuclear plant.
"What is most important is for TEPCO to end the crisis with maximum effort. So I rejected the offer," Gov. Yuhei Sato said on national broadcaster NHK. "Considering the anxiety, anger and exasperation being felt by people in Fukushima, there is just no way for me to accept their apology."
The nuclear crisis has added a broader dimension to the disaster unleashed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that pulverized the northeast coast, leaving more than 9,000 dead by official count and twice that in police estimates.
Three of Japan's marquee companies – Sony Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. – announced halts to production at plants in Japan. The reason is a shortage of parts – a result of so many ruined factories in the disaster area.
Fears about radiation are reaching well beyond those living near Fukushima and the 430,000 displaced by the earthquake and tsunami to encompass large segments of Japan. Traces of radiation are being found in vegetables and raw milk from a swath of farmland, forcing a government ban on sales from those areas.
Seawater near the Fukushima plant is showing elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium, prompting the government to test seafood.
China, Japan's largest trading partner, has ordered testing of imports of Japanese food. The World Health Organization has urged Japan to adopt stricter measures and reassure the public.
Government officials and health experts say the doses are low and not a threat to human health unless the tainted products are consumed in abnormally excessive quantities. But the government measures to release data on radiation amounts, halt sales of some foods and test others are feeding public worries that the situation may grow more dire.
"We acknowledge this situation has caused anxiety among the general public but even if the accident hadn't happened we would be monitoring and taking action if the government's very conservative standards are exceeded," the government's spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, said at a briefing.
In the first five days after the disasters struck, the Fukushima complex saw explosions and fires in four of the plant's six reactors, and the leaking of radioactive steam into the air. Since then, progress has been made cooling the active reactors and replenishing spent fuel pool, though setbacks have occurred.
The bubbling in Unit 2's storage pool is worrisome. If unabated, the water could boil away, exposing fuel rods that would throw up more radiation. At extremely high temperatures, the zirconium cladding around the rods could melt and explode.
Nishiyama, the agency official, said the rods had been partly exposed; an agency spokesman Shinji Kinjo believed the rods remained covered.
An official of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in Washington that Units 1, 2 and 3 have all seen damage to their reactor cores, but that containment is intact. The commission's executive director, Bill Borchardt, said that "things appear to be on the verge of stabilizing."
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said that radiation seeping into the environment is a concern and needs to be monitored. "We are still in an accident that is still in a very serious situation," said Graham Andrew, senior adviser to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.
IAEA monitoring stations have detected radiation 1,600 times higher than normal levels – but in an area about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the power station, the limit of the evacuation area declared by the government last week.
Radiation at that level, while not high for a single burst, could harm health if sustained. If projected to last three days, radiation at those levels would U.S. authorities would order an evacuation as a precaution.
The levels drop dramatically the further you go from the nuclear complex. In Tokyo, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, levels in recent days have been higher than normal for the city but still only a third of the global average for naturally occurring background radiation.
03/23/2011 4:31 PM EDT
South Korean Diaper Panic Results From Quake
The risk of radiation contamination from Japan's damaged nuclear power stations has sparked food bans across the globe and more surprisingly, a buying frenzy from South Korean mothers who fear their favorite Japanese-made diapers may suddenly become unavailable.
Cho Myung-jin, who organizes online group-buying for Japanese diapers, saw her website collapse on Tuesday under the weight of traffic as panicked South Koreans chased brands they believe are better quality than locally-made products.
Read more here.
03/23/2011 4:29 PM EDT
More Delays In Japan
Supply chain disruptions in Japan have forced at least one global automaker to delay the launch of two new models and are forcing other industries to shutter plants and rethink their logistical infrastructure.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said on Wednesday it would delay the launch in Japan of two new additions to the Prius line-up, a wagon and a minivan, from the originally planned end-April due to production disruptions from this month's devastating earthquake.
The world's biggest automaker has suspended production at all of its 12 domestic assembly plants at least through March 26 and has estimated a production loss of 140,000 vehicles until then.
03/23/2011 6:59 AM EDT
The towering waves that splintered thousands of Japanese homes and lives has forced the country to rethink one of its most sacred Buddhist practices: how it treats the dead.
Desperate municipalities are digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are usually cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.
03/22/2011 7:03 PM EDT
6.0 Earthquake Hits Northern Japan
An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolted parts of northern Japan near a quake-stricken nuclear power plant Wednesday, national broadcaster NHK said.
03/22/2011 4:30 PM EDT
Chernobyl Survivor To Japan: 'Run!'
AOL spoke with Natalia Manzurova, a "cleaner" after the disaster in Chernobyl who suffered many side effects from radiation. Her advice to the people of japan was to leave quickly. She said:
Every nuclear accident is different and the impact cannot be truly measured for years. The government does not always tell the truth. Many will never return to their homes. Their lives will be divided into two parts: before and after Fukushima. They'll worry about their health and their children's health. The government will probably say there was not that much radiation and that it didn't harm them. And the government will probably not compensate them for all that they've lost. What they lost can't be calculated.
Read the rest here.
03/22/2011 2:55 PM EDT
Bank Robber Hits Tsunami-Cracked Vault
The Japanese tsunami cracked a vault wide open, leaving a perfect chance for an opportunistic thief. The AP reports:
The earthquake and tsunami that pulverized coastal Japan crippled a bank's security mechanisms and left a vault wide open. That allowed someone to walk off with 40 million yen ($500,000).
The March 11 tsunami washed over the Shinkin Bank, like much else in Kesennuma, and police said between the wave's power and the ensuing power outages, the vault came open.
03/22/2011 2:01 PM EDT
Russia Presses Ahead With Nuclear Plants After Japan Crisis
HuffPost blogger Simon Saradzhyan writes that despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, Russia presses on with it's nuclear program:
While Russian authorities saw the recent calamities in Japan as a chance to initiate a rapprochement with the country, Moscow's overtures to Tokyo have received a cool reception. However, Japan's nuclear crisis nonetheless represents an opportunity for Russian policy-makers to take a fresh look at the country's nuclear energy policies in order to ensure that both existing and future plants are protected against natural or man-made calamities, even those that may still seem unthinkable.
Read the rest here.
03/22/2011 1:08 PM EDT
Reactor Continues To Leak Radiation
While radiation continues to leak from the reactor, the source is known, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. Reports Reuters:
"We continue to see radiation coming from the site ... and the question is where exactly is that coming from?" James Lyons, a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a news conference.
03/22/2011 12:10 PM EDT
National Cherry Blossom Festival Seeks To Aid Japan
Washington, D.C.'s Cheery Blossom Festival will seek to encourage aid to Japan this year. Reports the AP:
Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington are urging people to donate to the American Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Japan ahead of the festival that honors U.S.-Japanese relations.
Festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente says they are working on plans to recognize the tsunami tragedy during the festival, which runs March 26 to April 10.
03/22/2011 11:02 AM EDT
WTO Issues Warning
Japan's crisis will have macroeconomic repercussions beyond the country, the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned Tuesday.
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