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Japan

Power line connected to Fukushima nuclear plant

Reuters/Aly Song

Engineers were able to connect a power line to the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant on Saturday, raising hopes that the damaged reactors could be cooledto avoid a meltdown, and further radiation contaimnation. Relief efforts continue amid fuel shortages in the north of the country for the half-million people made homeless by last week's earthquake and tsunami.

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Engineers on Saturday managed to connect a power line into the plant, which is expected tor restore electricity to four of the six reactors.

They hope they can then use the electricity to get the cooling systems working again, after they were destroyed by last week’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

But given the extent of damage, it is unclear whether the cooling system would work even if power is restored.

Crews say they will continue to pump in seawater round the clock to try to lower the temperature of the fuel rods, which has been rising dangerously.

“Whatever they do, you have to realise that this spent nuclear fuel doesn’t just cool down overnight,” Philip White of the Citizens Nuclear Information Centre in Tokyo told RFI. “It continues to put off heat.”

He is critical of the government and nuclear industry before the earthquake, who ignored warnings that this kind of disaster could occur.

“This was a disaster that was waiting to happen,” he said. “We are desperately keen for them to succeed in their attempts now but if they do succeed, they will have left behind a massive amount of radioactive contamination in the area, and I think that you have to hold them responsible for that.”

The government is trying to quell fears of widespread radiation contamination.
It confirmed that some milk in Fukushima prefecture had shown signs of contamination, and some spinach in neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture

But government spokesperson Yukio Edano urged calm, saying that the contamination levels were still very low.

North of the nuclear plant, a major international relief operation continues to help the half a million people made homeless by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

With cold seasonal temperatures and a food shortage, people are struggling.

Francis Markus of the International Federation of the Red Cross says the problem is fuel.

“We have problems getting sufficient fuels to deliver relief supplies and to get medical teams to people in a timely fashion,” he told RFI. “And the cold weather is making life quite tough for those who have lost their homes.”

He says the Japanese Red Cross is in charge of the situation, providing medical care to survivors in evacuation centres and delivering some relief supplies. He is optimistic that food supplies will improve.

“We are hoping the situation will improve in the next few days as the logistical bottlenecks ease, and as the fuel situation improves,” he said. “Japan has said that it’s going to boost output from several of its oil refineries to make up for those knocked out of action by the disaster.”

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