Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Damaged nuclear plant taken offline

WHAT LIES BENEATH Radiation leaked from the plant was worse than first thought, but only 'one-billionth of Japan's legal limit.' A fault line may run under the plant


An earthquake-ravaged nuclear plant was shuttered indefinitely yesterday, amid revelations a radiation leak was worse than initially announced and mounting international concern about Japanese nuclear stewardship.

The mayor of Kashiwazaki city ordered the damaged Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility closed until its safety could be confirmed, escalating a showdown over a long list of problems at the world's largest nuclear power plant, in terms of output capacity.

The International Atomic Energy Agency meanwhile pressed Japan to undertake a transparent and thorough investigation of the accidents to see if there are lessons that can be applied to nuclear plants elsewhere in the world.

Adding to the urgency was new data from aftershocks from Monday's deadly 6.8-magnitude quake suggesting a fault line may run underneath the mammoth power plant.

Tsunehisa Katsumata, president of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), visited the site yesterday morning, declaring it "a mess." The previous evening, his company released a list of dozens of problems triggered by the quake.

A tour later given to Japan's Communist Party chief, Kazuo Shii, and a handful of reporters revealed widespread damage across its sprawling compound, including large cracks in roads, toppled concrete fences and buckled sidewalks.

"This is unforgivable," Shii told TEPCO deputy superintendent Masakazu Minamidate. "You say there's no leak before you really know. ... The delay in information was especially inexcusable."

Katsumata earlier apologized for "all the worry and trouble we have caused," but defended the safety standards.

"We will conduct an investigation from the ground up. But I think fundamentally we have confirmed that our safety measures worked," he said. "It is hard to make everything go perfectly."

TEPCO, Japan's largest power company, said the quake was stronger than planned for at the seven-reactor plant in Niigata Prefecture. But none of the problems posed serious threats to people or the environment, it said.

After Katsumata's plant tour, TEPCO announced that a leak of radioactive water into the Sea of Japan was actually 50 percent bigger than announced on Monday night. But the levels were still well below danger levels, it said.

"We made a mistake in calculating the amount that leaked into the ocean. We apologize and are making a correction," the statement said. Spokesman Jun Oshima said the amount was still "one-billionth of Japan's legal limit."

Still unconvinced was Hiroshi Aida, the mayor of Kashiwazaki, a city near the quake's epicenter and home to the plant and 93,500 people. He ordered operations at the plant to be halted yesterday for "safety reasons."

TEPCO had already come under fire for delays in reporting troubles, including the fire at an electric transformer and leaks of water containing radioactive material. But the lengthy list of problems released more than a day after the temblor stoked further concerns about the safety of nuclear power in this quake-prone country.

Speaking in Malaysia, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said a thorough review was key and offered to have his Vienna-based agency pull together global experts.

"It doesn't mean that the reactor structure or system has been damaged," ElBaradei said. "I would hope and I trust that Japan would be fully transparent in its investigation of that accident. The agency would be ready to join Japan through an international team in reviewing that accident and drawing the necessary lessons."

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