Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a fire broke out at the No. 4 reactor of its crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station today, where engineers are battling to contain the threat of radiation.
The blaze, at the same place as one yesterday, was reported at about 5:45 a.m. local time. It was no longer visible, a company spokesman said more than two hours later. Radiation levels prevented workers from approaching the fire, NHK cited Tokyo Electric as saying earlier.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, facing a nation reeling from its strongest earthquake on record, said yesterday the danger of further radiation leaks increased at the nuclear facility, 135 miles north of Tokyo. That sent the nation’s Topix stock index to its biggest two-day drop since 1987 as concern grew about the government’s ability to contain the crisis.
Tokyo Electric estimates 70 percent of the fuel at the plant’s No. 1 reactor was damaged as of 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Kyodo News reported, citing the Japanese utility. About one- third of the No. 2 reactor’s fuel may have been damaged, according to the report.
The wind at the stricken plant is forecast to blow this morning to the south at 2 to 5 meters a second, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said. Later in the day, it’s expected to blow to the southeast at speeds of as much as 12 meters a second. The forecast, posted on the agency’s website, is as of 6 a.m. local time.
Tokyo Electric engineers restored water levels at the plant yesterday, helping drive down radiation after residents within 30 kilometers (19 miles) were ordered inside to avoid contamination.
Water supply at the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors stabilized, and radiation readings at the front gate of the plant dropped to a level that isn’t “harmful to the human body,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said yesterday in Tokyo.
Asia’s biggest utility reported yesterday that the containment chamber of the No. 2 reactor may be damaged after a blast in the morning, and radiation leakage was possible.
The building that houses the No. 4 reactor at the nuclear plant has two holes in it and water in the spent fuel pool may be boiling, Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said in Tokyo yesterday.
A Tokyo Electric worker at the Fukushima nuclear plant is being treated for radiation exposure, said Toshiriro Bannai, director of international affairs for the Tokyo-based agency. Tokyo Electric said it hadn’t decided whether to bring workers back after the utility evacuated 750 of its 800 employees following yesterday morning’s blast.
About 50 workers remained at the plant to manage the reactors, Hikaru Kuroda, head of nuclear maintenance at the Japanese utility, said yesterday.
The latest incidents follow a blast at the No. 3 reactor March 14 after a buildup of hydrogen gas, and a similar explosion at the No. 1 reactor on March 12.
Japan informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about the explosion at the No. 2 reactor and reported a fire at the No. 4 unit’s spent fuel pond that released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere, the IAEA said in a statement yesterday.
“The Japanese authorities are saying that there is a possibility that the fire was caused by a hydrogen explosion,” the agency said.
About 140,000 people within a radius of 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant were ordered to stay indoors. Kan said yesterday the total evacuation of those within a 10-kilometer radius was almost complete. The magnitude-9 March 11 temblor and subsequent tsunami have led to what Kan has called the country’s worst crisis since World War II.
--With assistance from Yuji Okada, Patrick Harrington, Yuriy Humber, Young-Sam Cho, Go Onomitsu and Shigeru Sato in Tokyo, Simeon Bennett in Singapore, John Viljoen in Sydney, Susan Li in Hong Kong, Anna Shiryaevskaya in Moscow and Kari Lundgren in London. Editors: John Viljoen, Andrew Hobbs
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