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Nuclear progress in Japan as death toll rises

21 March 2011

Electricity has been restored to three reactors at the Japanese nuclear plant wrecked by fire and explosions after the 11 March quake and tsunami. However the cooling systems are not yet operating, and the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, says the situation remains very serious.

Engineers have restored power to three reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and hope to test water pumps soon. Workers have been battling to cool reactors and spent fuel ponds to bring the radiation-leaking plant under control. A plant spokesman says some workers were evacuated from the complex after smoke or vapour was seen rising from the No 3 reactor. Villagers living near the plant have been told not to drink tap water due to higher levels of radioactive iodine.

"There have been some positive developments in the last 24 hours but overall the situation remains very serious," said Graham Andrew, a senior IAEA official. "We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control," Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Over the weekend spinach and milk produced near the Fukushima nuclear plant was found to contain levels of radioactive iodine far higher than the legal limits, although not at levels that would be a risk to human health. Radioactive materials three times higher than the legal safety limit were detected in the water there. At the moment local governments are asking producers of spinach and milk in the affected areas not to send their goods to markets.

The government is considering whether additional precautions may be needed, while bad weather forced Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to cancel a planned visit to emergency workers near the Fukushima plant.

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