19 Apr 2011

Radioactive water pumped out of Fukushima reactor

7:49 pm on 19 April 2011

Workers at Japan's stricken nuclear plant have begun removing highly radioactive water from a reactor turbine building - a key step towards restoring cooling systems.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan on 11 March knocked out power systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing cooling systems to fail and triggering a series of explosions.

To prevent a nuclear catastrophe, crews have pumped thousands of tonnes of seawater and freshwater into the reactors and pools, creating a massive amount of radioactive run-off, some of which has leaked into the ocean, AFP reports.

About 10,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water will be transferred from the turbine building of reactor No 2 to a treatment facility inside the plant for processing, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Spokesperson Hidehiko Nishiyama said the operation would allow emergency crews battling to stabilise the plant to "pour more water into the reactor in order to gradually decrease the amount of water dousing".

The move is necesssary to start work to restore cooling functions at the plant, where workers have found turbine buildings, trenches and shafts submerged in highly radioactive water.

Tens of thousands of people living near the 1970s-era plant have been forced to leave their homes as radiation has leaked into the air, soil and sea.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said on Sunday it hopes to reduce radiation leaking from the plant in three months and to achieve "cold shutdowns" of all reactors within six to nine months.

Robots measuring radiation levels

Emergency workers have been unable to enter any reactor building since the disaster.

On Sunday remote-controlled robots were used at the stricken plant to measure radiation levels inside the buildings housing reactors No 1 and 3, the BBC reports.

Tepco says exposure to radiation levels in the No 3 reactor for four-and-a-half hours would exceed the emergency safety limit for workers at the plant.

It plans to send robots to take measurements inside the No 2 reactor on Monday.

Tepco says it expects to bring the crisis under control by the end of this year.