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Fukushima status little improved

March 12, 2013 at 2:20 PM  |  Updated March 12, 2013 at 2:23 PM   |   Comments

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TOKYO, March 12 (UPI) -- Radiation is still at dangerous levels in the contamination zone of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, says a witness report.

The BBC report on Monday recounts a tour of the Fukushima site taken last week, the second such tour granted foreign TV journalists since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, crippled the nuclear facility, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

In reactor building No. 4, which BBC referred to as "the most worrying," more than 1,500 spent fuel rods remain in a cooling pool outside the reactor's steel and concrete containment vessel on the third floor.

The fuel rods are "still highly radioactive," the report says.

A huge steel structure is being built around the building, intended "to raise the spent fuel out." However that operation will not start until the end of this year, and will then take another two years to complete.

The underground walls of Fukushima's foundation, designed to keep the plant watertight, also appear to have been severely damaged, BBC says. As a result, ground and seawater is leaking in to the basements around the reactors and becoming contaminated.

Tepco is storing that water in 1,000-ton tanks, hundreds of which are at the Fukushima site. Because of the large amounts of water leakage, a new tank is being added every two to three days, and within two years there will be no room for additional tanks, BBC says.

Fukushima plant manager Takeshi Takahashi, in a short meeting with the journalists after the tour, said: "We need to remove the broken and damaged fuel and safely isolate it. This work will take 30 to 40 years. Even during the process we should never release any radioactive material into the surrounding environment."

About 3,000 workers are involved in the cleanup.

Although the government said in late 2011 that the nuclear crisis had been brought under control, about 57,000 residents in Fukushima have taken refuge outside the prefecture, reports The Japan Times.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that 1,650 residents and evacuees filed lawsuits Monday, the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, against the central government and Tepco demanding a total of about $55.2 million to return their lives to what it had been prior to the disaster.

It's the first lawsuit related to the Fukushima disaster in which the central government was named as a defendant. The lawyers want the government to be held responsible because it promoted nuclear energy as a national policy and was in a position to oversee Tepco in its operation of the Fukushima facility.

Only two of Japan's 50 operable nuclear reactors are online, following shutdowns ordered after the Fukushima crisis.

Prior to the disaster, Japan was the third largest consumer of nuclear power, after the United States and France, with nuclear plants generating about one-third of Japan's electricity.

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