M A I N   N E W S

Japan struggles to avert meltdown
* Nuclear crisis worsens as fire breaks out again at No. 4 reactor 
* Workers pulled out from Daiichi plant as radiation level rises 

Fukushima/Tokyo, March 16
Japan’s nuclear nightmare worsened today with radiation levels surging at a quake- crippled reactor at Fukushima plant, forcing authorities to briefly pull out emergency workers even as another fire erupted slowing desperate efforts to avert a meltdown.
Heavy snow hinders rescue work at a devastated factory area in Sendai, northern Japan
Heavy snow hinders rescue work at a devastated factory area in Sendai, northern Japan, on Wednesday. — Reuters

With the crisis appearing to be going beyond control, Japan’s Emperor Akihito in a rare address to the nation said he was deeply worried over the developments in the aftermath of the last Friday’s massive earthquake of 9.0 magnitude and tsunami.

“I sincerely hope from the bottom of my heart that people will, hand in hand, overcome these difficult times by treating each other with compassion,” said the 77-year-old emperor who for the first time appeared in a video message.

About 50 employees were believed to be working at the reactor No.3 at the plant, 220 km north of Tokyo, to avert a meltdown when the radiation levels surged suddenly.

The government’s nuclear safety agency said the radiation levels briefly reached 10 millisievert per hour at the plant’s entrance at 10.40 am local time, but added that it was possibly due to radioactive substances emitted from the No. 2 reactor.

Authorities were also considering spraying boric acid by helicopters to prevent spent nuclear fuel rods at another troubled reactor, No.4, from reaching criticality again, restarting a chain reaction, Kyodo news agency reported. Around 730 workers were evacuated from the site yesterday following hydrogen explosions at the reactors, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant.

The remaining employees at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were withdrawn today following the sudden rise in radiation levels, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The work was suspended temporarily at the plant, where an estimated 70 per cent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No.1 reactor and 33 per cent at the No.2 reactor. “Workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now. Because of the radiation risk, we are on standby,” Edano said.

The cores of both reactors are believed to have partially melted with their cooling functions lost in the wake of Friday’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami that have left over 11,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

At the No.2 reactor, the pressure-suppression chamber connected to its containment vessel was damaged following an explosion yesterday.

Adding to the concerns, a fire broke out again at the No.4 reactor, which was already posing the risk of leaks of high-level radioactive material, but flames were no longer visible about 30 minutes later, according to TEPCO.

Struggling to deal with the impending fallout of high radiation levels, people in the quake-tsunami hit northeastern coast also have to grapple with no electricity and water while coping with freezing cold.

Shortage of food and blankets have added to the woes of those whose homes have been flattened.

Rescue operations were, meanwhile, continuing in the quake-hit region, with 80,000 Self-Defence Forces personnel and police officers being mobilised for the purpose.

Officials said over 11,000 persons were killed or unaccounted for, with the National Police Agency confirming 3,676 deaths in 12 prefectures.

An estimated 7,843 persons remained unaccounted for in six prefectures, the officials said, adding The death toll, however, is likely to climb.

However, BBC said that in the northeastern town of Otsuchi alone, the fate of half of the population, of about 8,000 people, remains unknown.

Some 530,000 people have been staying in more than 2,600 shelters, prompting the severely-hit prefectural governments of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima to request Japan Prefabricated Construction Suppliers and Manufacturers Association to build 32,800 temporary housing in total, Kyodo said.

In a bid to cover an acute electricity shortage, TEPCO carried out rolling blackouts for the third consecutive day by cutting off electricity in the Tokyo vicinity.

Aftershocks also continued to rock Japan, with a strong quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolting Tokyo and its vicinity.

The Bank of Japan has offered an additional 13.8 trillion yen (some $170 billion) to money markets, bringing to 55.6 trillion yen the total emergency funds made available by it to protect the nation’s banking system from the negative impact of Friday’s massive earthquake. — PTI 

Path of the plume

This map averages nine trajectories to show the potential path of a radiation plume from Tuesday's explosion based on weather patterns and the height at which the radiation enters the atmosphere.








PM reviews safety of Indian plants 
Anita Katyal
Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 16
As the rising radiation levels in Japan sent alarm bells ringing across the world, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today held a meeting with leading atomic scientists to review safety standards at the country’s nuclear plants. He was reportedly told that India was unlikely to face a Fukushima-type crisis as the nuclear power plants here were designed differently from those in Japan.

The Prime Minister was briefed by Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and SS Bajaj, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), who had been asked to undertake a thorough review of the safeguards at various nuclear installations in the backdrop of the nuclear calamity in Japan.

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told mediapersons at the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) that the Department of Atomic Energy had informed the Prime Minister’s Office that an incident of the kind witnessed at Japan’s Fukushima plant happening at an Indian facility was highly unlikely as the Indian nuclear reactors had been designed differently from those in Japan. “We also store our fuel differently,” he added.

“We have asked the AEC and the DAE to tell us what lessons we can learn from the Japan incident. They are undertaking a detailed review of the design of the safety procedures and will come back with conclusive answers,” he said. He refused to say anything more on the plea that the situation in Japan was still evolving and that it was being watched closely.

Government sources said the Indian establishment had been monitoring the situation in Japan ever since it received the first report about the nuclear incident. The Prime Minister is said to have taken several meetings on the issue and is constantly updated about the developments.

Today’s meeting came two days after the Prime Minister informed Parliament that the government had ordered an immediate technical safety review at India’s atomic plants to check if these facilities could handle the impact of major natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan recently.

“The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and its agencies, including the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, have been instructed to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants, particularly with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes,” the PM had said. The DAE was also working at strengthening the country’s national nuclear safety regulatory authority, he added.

The catastrophe in Japan has serious implications for India’s nuclear energy programme, which has been pushed assiduously by the Prime Minister. There are serious concerns about the future of the nuclear agreements that India has signed with various countries even as questions are being raised about the safety standards currently in place at the country’s nuclear facilities. The DAE has been asked to place all facts in the public domain as half-baked knowledge adds to fears.

However, top DAE and AEC officials are learnt to have held out an assurance that the situation in Japan will not be replicated in India as the safety procedures adopted here have factored in all possible contingencies like power failure while providing sufficient storage facilities for water. It has also been pointed out that except the Narora plant, which is located in seismic zone 4, no other plant is situated in quake-prone area, including the proposed plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. They have also made it clear that there is nothing from the scientific viewpoint to suggest that the country’s nuclear energy programmes should be scrapped.



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