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New threats emerge at Japan nuclear plant

The operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant reported new problems today.

The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant reported new problems today,including a water leak from a reactor vessel and another spill of contaminated water into the ocean.

The update by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) came as emergency crews have been battling to bring the tsunami-hit and radiation-leaking plant into stable “cold shutdown” some time between October and January.

The giant ocean wave triggered by the massive magnitude-9.0 seabed quake on March 11 knocked out the plant’s water cooling systems,leading fuel rods inside several of the reactor cores to partially melt down.

Pressure and temperature build-ups have triggered a series of explosions,and workers have since doused the reactors and fuel rod pools with water to stop them from overheating and releasing greater amounts of radiation.

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TEPCO today said new measurements taken this week,after workers in protective suits fixed gauges in the badly-hit reactor one building,indicated that water pumped into the pressure vessel had quickly leaked out.

The water level inside had fallen below the bottom of the four-metre (12 foot) long fuel rods,suggesting they had been exposed to the air,increasing the risk of a dangerous full meltdown.

However,the vessel’s relatively low outside temperature of 100-120 degrees Celsius (212-248 degrees Fahrenheit) indicated that the rods had dropped to the bottom of the vessel and were under water,TEPCO said.

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“The temperature of the pressure vessel was 100-120 degrees,which is considered to be the level where the fuel rods are being cooled down in a relatively stable manner,” a TEPCO official told AFP.

Anti-nuclear and environmental activist group Greenpeace said the news showed that at least some water level readings were entirely wrong and that “the situation is clearly far more serious than previously reported”.

“Earlier readings of water levels,temperatures and pressure at Fukushima reactor one lead to assumptions by the authorities that reactors one,two and three were stabilising,” said Jan Beranek,the group’s international nuclear campaign leader.

First published on: 12-05-2011 at 02:16:07 pm
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