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March 21, 2011

Electricity Restored in Part of Tsunami-Damaged Japanese Nuclear Plant

The Japanese operator of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant says electricity has been partially restored to one of the six reactors crippled by an earthquake and tsunami that struck the country earlier this month.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says the lights came on in the control room of the number three reactor at the Fukushima plant Tuesday, giving a boost to repair crews racing to restore electricity to other parts of the complex.

TEPCO says workers finished reconnecting power lines to all six reactor units at the complex earlier in the day, a major step toward restarting cooling systems that prevent nuclear fuel rods from overheating and leaking radiation.  But the company said it will take time to check the safety of electrical equipment before turning more of the power back on.

Emergency crews continued pumping and spraying sea water onto the reactors to cool them down. Steam and smoke rose from two of the reactor buildings Tuesday, but officials said the emissions did not appear to be dangerous.  An official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said he no longer sees any chance of a total meltdown of the reactors.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that radiation continues to be emitted from the Fukushima plant.  IAEA official James Lyons said it is not clear what parts of the reactors are causing the leakage.

The Japanese nuclear crisis is the world's most serious in 25 years and has forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate a 20-kilometer zone around the Fukushima plant.  TEPCO vice president Norio Tsuzumi visited an evacuation center Tuesday and bowed deeply in apology to the evacuees.

Japanese authorities say almost 23,000 people are dead or missing following the twin disasters of March 11, which swept away entire communities along the Pacific coast of Japan's Honshu island.

Officials said Tuesday that among the dead was a 24-year-old American teacher whose body was found in the wreckage of the city of Ishinomaki. Taylor Anderson is the first American known to have died in the disasters.

Three strong earthquakes struck the waters east of Honshu Tuesday, keeping residents on edge more than ten days after the magnitude 9.0 quake that triggered the towering tsunami.  The U.S. Geological Survey says two of the latest quakes had a magnitude of 6.6, while the third had a magnitude of 6.4.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said freezing temperatures continue to make life difficult for about 318,000 people who remain in evacuation centers across the disaster zone.  But it says relief supplies are reaching the evacuees and 90 percent of telecommunication links have been restored to affected areas.

The World Bank has estimated the cost of the twin disasters at up to $235 billion, more than twice as much as the cost of Japan's 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Russia says it will help Japan by increasing energy sales to the Japanese economy.  Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Tuesday that oil exports to Japan will double to 18 million tons this year.

Investors reacted positively to Japan's improved prospects of averting a nuclear catastrophe, driving the benchmark Nikkei stock index up by more than four percent on Tuesday.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.