Woman worker at crisis-hit N-plant exposed to high radiation

Woman worker at crisis-hit N-plant exposed to high radiation

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko surveyed the tsunami-battered areas of Miyagi prefecture in their first visit to the northeastern coast since the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that left nearly 30,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

The imperial couple travelled to Miyagi on a Self-Defense Force (SDF) plane from Tokyo and were briefed by Governor Yoshihiro Murai on the damage caused to the prefecture, following which they flew by a helicopter to the town of Minami Sanriku to comfort tsunami survivors, national broadcaster NHK said.

During their visit to the devastated town, they bowed silently for the victims and then visited a local junior high school where about 200 residents had taken shelter. The Emperor and Empress, who offered their words of encouragement to the affected people, had earlier visited evacuation centres in and near Tokyo.

The royal couple's visit to the devastated northeast came amid hectic efforts by authorities to tackle the atomic crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by last month's twin disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, said that one of its woman employees at the crisis-hit facility was exposed to radiation doses exceeding three times the legal limit of 5 millisieverts in a three-month period, although she has not suffered any health problems, Kyodo news agency reported.

TEPCO also started increasing the amount of water being injected into the troubled No.1 reactor core as it prepared to flood the unit's primary containment vessel to cool the fuel inside in a stable manner.

The firm began pumping more water into the reactor in order to monitor changes in the water depth in the containment vessel and check for leaks. The test is part of a plan to fill the No.1 and No.3 reactors' containment vessels with water by July, to cool the fuel rods in a stable manner.

TEPCO said it will raise the amount of water injected from 6 to 10 tonnes per hour for 6 hours, and then to 14 tonnes per hour. The temperature and pressure in the containment vessel will be monitored for 18 hours.

The power company said it will decrease the flow back to 6 tonnes per hour by tomorrow morning and then send robots into the reactor building to check for leaks.

It said it will make sure that the containment vessel, with the added weight of the water inside, can withstand strong aftershocks. The firm said the robots yesterday detected radiation levels of up to 1,120 millisieverts per hour inside the No.1 reactor building and added that some contaminated water may be leaking from the reactor into external pipes.

Water may be leaking from the No.4 reactor fuel pool as well, according to TEPCO. More than 1,500 spent fuel rods are stored in the pool, the largest number at the site. TEPCO has poured in 140 to 210 tonnes of water over each of the last few days. The company found that water levels in the pool were 10 to 40 cm lower than expected despite the water injections, NHK said.

The walls of the reactor building supporting the pool were severely damaged by a hydrogen explosion at the plant last month. TEPCO says the pool may have been damaged by the blast as well.

TEPCO recently unveiled a roadmap, which seeks to restore stable cooling to the reactors and spent fuel pools of the troubled Nos.1 to 4 units in about three months. Prime Minister Naoto Kan is considering setting up a big underground tank in the compound of the radiation-spewing Fukushima plant to prevent contaminated water from spilling into the sea, according to a top official.

"There is bedrock 46 metres underground. The government has found that no tainted water will seep below (the bedrock) and is considering building a tank there," Ikuhiro Hattori, who heads the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives Associations, quoted Kan as saying, Kyodo reported.

Hattori's remarks came after he and other executives of the federation held talks with Kan during which they lodged a protest against the government for allowing TEPCO to release a large amount of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean in early April.

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