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06/05/2011 | Fukushima workers enter nuclear reactor building

BBC

Workers at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant have entered one of its reactor buildings for the first time since it was hit by a powerful earthquake on 11 March, officials say.

 

They are installing ventilation systems in the No 1 reactor to filter out radioactive material from the air.

The quake disabled reactor cooling systems, causing fuel rods to overheat.

Radiation levels inside reactor buildings must be lowered before new cooling systems can be installed.

The No 1 reactor was one of four damaged by explosions in the days immediately after the earthquake and tsunami. Water is being pumped in to cool the reactors.

New systems

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said that 12 engineers would work inside the reactor building in shifts of 10 minutes.

"Groups of four will go in one by one to install the ducts. They'll be working in a narrow space," spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters.

Footage filmed by cameras mounted on robots sent into the reactor had already established that there were no leaks of potentially radioactive water inside the building.

Tepco said it hoped to begin operating the ventilator later in the day. It then plans to connect up a new cooling system outside the reactor to bring temperatures down.

The company faces similar problems at three other reactors at the six-reactor plant.

Tepco is also dealing with highly radioactive waste-water leaking from the No 2 reactor which it is moving to secure storage on site.

Tepco has said it expects to bring the crisis under control and achieve a cold shutdown of the plant by the end of the year, but some doubt whether this target can be achieved.

A 20km (12 mile) evacuation zone has been put in place around the plant because of concern about radiation levels.

On Wednesday residents living in a temporary evacuation centre shouted at Tepco President Masataka Shimizu when he visited them, accusing him of lying about safety levels at the plant.

"I just want to say that we are doing everything that we can, and that I want to apologise from the very bottom of my heart. I am deeply sorry," he responded.

A total of 14,785 people are confirmed to have been killed by the earthquake and resulting tsunami. Another 10,271 remain missing, according to the latest police figures.

Japan's recovery bill has been estimated at $300bn (£184bn) - making this already the most expensive disaster in history.

BBC (Reino Unido)

 


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