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Work resumes at Japan Fukushima nuclear plant



TOKYO, Mar 24, 2011

Engineers at Japan 's damaged nuclear plant resumed work on reconnecting power as Tokyo authorities prepared to hand out bottled water to families after determining that tap water may be unsafe for babies.

City officials will hand out 240,000 bottles today to 80,000 families, according to the local government. Radioactive iodine levels measured two days ago at a treatment facility in Katsushika ward were double the recommended limit for infants.

Restoring power to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant is key to restarting cooling pumps and preventing further radiation leaks sparked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Elevated iodine levels in water and food triggered bulk buying at supermarkets even as the government says that health risks are minimal.

"We're trying to prevent further deterioration as well as restore the power, " Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today in Tokyo . "We cannot let our guard down."

Workers at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, located 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Tokyo, resumed efforts to restore electricity to the No. 3 reactor today, said Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman for the utility. The unit was evacuated yesterday after smoke was detected. The cause of the smoke is unknown, Tepco said. Power is needed to help circulate cooling water and keep the nuclear fuel rods from overheating.

The company is investigating the source of steam and smoke seen at the No. 2 and No. 4 reactors, Iwamoto said.

No. 1 Reactor

Lights were switched on at the No. 1 unit's control room today. Workers made progress cooling the reactor following a spike up in temperatures yesterday, Edano said. There were no signs of damage to the containment vessel, he said.

Tepco will attempt to restore power to the No. 5 reactor's pump today, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's nuclear safety agency, said. That unit was shut down for maintenance when the quake hit and is considered less of a radiation threat. Three workers were hospitalized and treated for burns after being exposed to up to 180 millisieverts of radiation.

The Nikkei 225 (NKY) Stock Average decreased 0.2 percent today and slumped 1.7 percent yesterday after Tokyo issued the water advisory.

“It's hard to tell people they're ingesting radiation in any way that won't provoke a panic,” said Jeff Kingston , director of Asian Studies at Temple University 's Tokyo campus. “But the government has been far more transparent than in any case I can recall.”

Iodine Levels

Levels of iodine-131 in Tokyo's tap water rose to 210 Becquerels per kilogram (2.2 pounds) two days ago, according to the Tokyo city government. The recommended limit is 300 for adults and 100 for infants. The level fell to 79 at the same sampling site today, Kyodo News reported.

The Health Ministry yesterday advised against eating leafy vegetables produced near the disaster site. The degree of contamination detected isn't harmful, Edano said. While parents shouldn't use tap water to mix baby formula, it can be drunk safely by adults and children, he said.

Hong Kong , Singapore and Australia banned imports of vegetables and fruits harvested in five quake-stricken prefectures in Japan. Singapore suspended imports of milk and milk products, seafood and meat from those areas of Japan.

Water filters made by Panasonic Corp. (6752) and Toray Industries Inc. (3402) aren't designed to eliminate iodine, spokesmen for both companies said in telephone interviews yesterday. Children are susceptible to radiation poisoning from iodine, which can accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization .

Death Toll

The death toll from Japan's worst postwar disaster climbed to 9,700 as of noon today, with 16,501 people missing, according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo. More than 250,000 people are living in 1,913 evacuation centers. The magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami devastated the country's northern coastline.

The maximum radiation reading reported so far at the nuclear plant is 500 millisieverts per hour, meaning a worker in the vicinity would receive the maximum allowed dose for the current crisis in 30 minutes.

"This is an evolving crisis and we don't know whether the problem of radiation has reached its peak," said Yoshimasa Maruyama , senior economist in Tokyo at Itochu Corp. (8001) , an Osaka- based trading company that gets about 30 percent of its sales from food. "The challenge will be whether the government can continue to manage the situation to keep people from panicking."

Story by Tsuyoshi Inajima and Takashi Hirokawa from Bloomberg.
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Bloomberg / Mar 24, 2011 1:53 AM GMT-0430



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