Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Nuclear plant operator criticised

A young evacuee is screened at a shelter for leaked radiation from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan (AP)
Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan said the country was not in a position to be optimistic (AP)

Japan's government has revealed a series of missteps by the operator of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant, including sending workers in without protective footwear in its faltering efforts to control a monumental crisis.

The US Navy, meanwhile, rushed to deliver fresh water to replace corrosive saltwater now being used in a desperate bid to cool the plant's overheated reactors.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano urged Tokyo Electric Power Co to be more transparent, two days after two workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered skin burns when they stepped in water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found near the reactors.

"We strongly urge TEPCO to provide information to the government more promptly," Edano said.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA, said TEPCO was aware there was high radiation in the air at one of the plant's six units several days before the accident.

And the two workers injured were wearing boots that only came up to their ankles - hardly high enough to protect their legs, agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

"Regardless of whether there was an awareness of high radioactivity in the stagnant water, there were problems in the way work was conducted," Nishiyama said.

NISA warned TEPCO to improve and ensure workers' safety, and TEPCO has taken measures to that effect, Nishiyama said, without elaborating. TEPCO spokesman Hajime Motojuku declined to comment.

The government's criticisms came as workers at the plant struggled to stop a troubling rise in radioactivity and remove dangerously contaminated water from the facility, which has been leaking radiation since a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the plant's key cooling systems.

Officials have been using seawater to try to cool the plant, but fears are growing that the corrosive salt in the water could further damage the machinery inside the reactor units. TEPCO is now rushing to inject the reactors with fresh water instead, and to begin extracting the radioactive water, Nishiyama said.

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