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Workers begin installing enclosures in Japan to prevent sea contamination

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TOKYO - Workers trying to stabilize a crippled nuclear power plant started Saturday to install enclosing materials in the sea just outside the facility to prevent radioactive water from spreading further into the Pacific Ocean.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, meanwhile, met with Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato in the city of Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture, in the morning, and plans to visit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station later in the day.

The visit, aimed at encouraging those engaged in stabilization efforts and checking on the plant's damaged reactors, would be the first by a Cabinet minister after the six-reactor plant was rocked by explosions and began spewing radioactive materials in mid-March.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., plans to enclose a seawater intake for the No. 2 reactor at the plant with seven steel sheets and a 120-meter-wide "silt curtain" near the intake and two other locations nearby.

The power supplier stopped the leakage of water contaminated with radioactive materials from near the intake on Wednesday. But facing mounting environmental concerns, it hopes that the installation will help prevent contaminated water from spreading outside the plant's bay.

The radioactive iodine reading was 63,000 times the legal limit in seawater near the intake a day after contaminated water stopped leaking into the sea.

Along with the efforts to stop the leakage, the utility also released about 9,000 tons of water containing relatively low-level radioactive materials into the sea to free up room to pool contaminated water that has flooded the No. 2 reactor's turbine building and a tunnel outside it.

The company, known as TEPCO, also continued to pump nitrogen, an inert gas, into the No. 1 reactor to prevent hydrogen from exploding, while enhancing the purity of the gas to reduce the amount of oxygen mixed in it.

TEPCO said it will fly a small unmanned helicopter to survey the plant, possibly starting on Sunday, depending on the weather. The drone is expected to capture images of damaged installations at the Nos. 1 to 4 reactors that workers would find it hard to approach due to elevated levels of radiation.

During a meeting with Governor Sato, industry minister Kaieda inquired about what local residents' requests are as the government has directed those living within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant to evacuate to ensure their safety.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kaieda, whose ministry promotes and regulates the nuclear industry, said the situation was far from being brought under control and expressed his resolve to contain it as soon as possible.

On the nation's atomic energy policy, he said, "While I can't say at this point, we need to review standards to enhance safety."

Also Saturday, the government's nuclear safety agency called on the nation's power suppliers to have at least two backup diesel generators on standby even when a reactor is in a stable condition called "cold shutdown" or undergoing fuel replacement.

The move came after all three diesel generators failed to function at the Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture at one point following the 7.1-magnitude aftershock late Thursday of the March 11 deadly earthquake.

The agency's previous rule that required the suppliers to have just one diesel generator on standby in situations including cold shutdown was "not enough, I must say," Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency, said at a news conference.

The nuclear crisis erupted after last month's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami knocked out external power supplies and backup generators for cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and allowed reactors there to overheat.

Nishiyama also displayed candor about the missteps and failures that precipitated the disaster, saying, "We had said all along that (nuclear power) was absolutely secure thanks to its multiple layers of protection and five-layer barriers, and I believed this, but we brought this situation onto ourselves."

"We need to review everything to ensure safety, regardless of precedents," he said.

By PNA/Kyodo




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