Japan yesterday shut down the final working reactor at a nuclear plant near a tectonic faultline as Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged a new law to help compensate victims of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Workers suspended the Hamaoka power station’s No. 5 reactor at 1pm in a bid to avoid a repeat of the atomic emergency sparked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“The shutdown was confirmed after we inserted all 205 control rods into the reactor,” said Hiroaki Oobayashi, a spokesman for the plant’s operator, Chubu Electric Power Co.
Seismologists have long warned that a major earthquake is overdue in the Tokai region southwest of Tokyo where the Hamaoka power plant is located.
The prime minister called for Hamaoka’s closure last week, eight weeks after the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that knocked out the cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, sparking the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years.
Kan has insisted the Hamaoka plant should stay shut while a higher sea wall is built and other measures are taken to guard it against natural disasters. The process is expected to last a few years.
The complex, located on the Pacific coast about 200km southwest of Tokyo, has five reactors, but only two have been running recently — No. 4 and 5. Reactor No. 4 was suspended on Friday. Reactors one and two, built in the 1970s, were stopped in 2009, and No. 3 is undergoing maintenance.
Hamaoka accounts for almost 12 percent of the output of Chubu Electric, which serves a large part of Japan’s industrial heartland, including many Toyota car factories.
Kan told the governor of Fukushima Prefecture in a meeting yesterday that he was considering legislation to compensate people forced to flee their homes in the wake of the nuclear crisis.
More than 80,000 people have been forced from homes, farms and businesses in a 20km zone around the plant which has leaked radiation into the air, ground and sea.
Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato said Kan told him: “The government will firmly put a special law in place and take the responsibility for compensation.”
Sato told reporters that the existing law on nuclear accidents was limited in scope as it does not cover damage such as the cost of misinformation on radioactive contamination of farm, fishery and other products from Fukushima.
“Harmful rumors have caused unimaginable damage,” he said.
Meanwhile, a worker at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant died yesterday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said, bringing the death toll at the complex to three since the earthquake and tsunami struck.
The cause of the death was unknown. The man, in his 60s, was employed by one of TEPCO’s contractors and started working at the plant on Friday. He was exposed to 0.17 millisieverts of radiation yesterday, TEPCO said.
The Japanese government’s maximum level of exposure for male workers at the plant is 250 millisieverts for the duration of the effort to bring it under control.
The worker fell ill 50 minutes after starting work at 6am yesterday and was brought to the plant’s medical room unconscious.
He was later moved to a nearby hospital and confirmed dead, a TEPCO spokesman said.
Two Tokyo Electric employees went missing while patrolling the plant soon after the quake and were later found dead.