Oil Spill, Blast Hit Japan Nuke

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 @ 06:05 PM gHale

An oil spill and a small explosion have caused limited damage at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan.

Workers at the crippled nuclear plant found an oil spill in the sea near reactors five and six, which were in shutdown when the earthquake and tsunami struck March 11, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. An oil fence contained the spill, TEPCO spokesman Taichi Okazaki said.

The explosion workers heard at reactor four was likely from a gas tank and did not cause any additional radiation leaks, Okazaki said. The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

The main problems at Fukushima Dai-ichi involve reactors one, two and three, where the fuel cores have largely melted. Scientists and government officials said the reactors are just short of a full meltdown, in which the fuel breaks through the bottom of the outer container.

Workers have been fighting to get the reactors under control after the tsunami destroyed backup power generators, halting crucial cooling systems that managed the fuel temperature.

In the immediate days after the tsunami, several explosions larger than Tuesday’s hit the plant and scattered highly radioactive debris and puffs of radioactive particles into the environment. The plant has also leaked tons of radioactive water, which officials are promising to clean up.

TEPCO promised to bring the plant under control by January, but fears are growing those promises are too optimistic.

Concerns about the risks workers face there jumped as TEPCO said two workers might have exceeded a radiation exposure limit. The government had raised the limit for men soon after the earthquake and tsunami set off the crisis at the plant.

TEPCO needs to check internal exposure levels of all workers who might have worked closely with the two men and to remove all of them from plant duties until they make the checks, Health Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa said.

Further testing is ongoing for the two men responsible for the central control rooms of two reactors, and the company has said they do not show immediate health problems.

More than 2,000 workers tested so far did not have exposure levels beyond the limit, but hundreds more are awaiting tests, TEPCO spokesman Takeo Iwamoto said.

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