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Explosion Rocks Japanese Nuclear Reactor


There has been an explosion at a decommissioned nuclear reactor in Japan, but officials say no radiation has leaked.

Officials at the Fugen nuclear reactor, 370 kilometers west of Tokyo, say they heard an explosion Friday at 11:47 a.m. local time. Fire alarms sounded at the waste disposal unit next to the reactor and smoke was seen billowing in the skies above it.

Fire officials say the smoke cleared within two hours. A plant spokesman, Chikara Gunji, explains what happened. He says plant officials tried to restart the incinerator Friday and triggered the fire alarm. He adds that no injuries or radiation leaks were reported.

Japan, with few natural resources, relies on nuclear power as its main source of energy and has more than 50 reactors in operation. But safety problems have plagued the industry and angered the public.

Tokyo Electric Power, Japan's biggest utility, has admitted to falsifying safety documents for more than 10 years, prompting regulators to close down its reactors for safety inspections.

In January, a Japanese court halted the reactivation of the controversial Monju nuclear plant, which closed in 1995 following a serious sodium leak.

The country's worst nuclear accident took place in 1999 in Tokaimura, 120 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.

Three workers ignored safety procedures and used buckets to transfer a uranium solution to a tank, causing a nuclear reaction, which sent radioactive gas gushing into the atmosphere. The accident exposed more than 400 residents to radiation and killed two workers.

The reactor where Friday's explosion took place was shut down in March because of high operating costs and will be dismantled over the next 30 to 40 years. The plant was designed to burn a mix of uranium and plutonium as a transition to more advanced reactors.

But it has also had some safety problems: it was closed down last year for three months after officials noticed increased radiation levels in its cooling system.

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