Worsening situation at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, new power line going up

The new power line would power electric water pumps, allowing plant operators to keep a steady flow of water into the reactor cooling systems and spent-fuel ponds

Tokyo, March 16, 2011 Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers have nearly completed a new power line to restore electricity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and assist the remaining plant workers in their effort to stabilize the plant's four most troubled reactors.

The new power line would power electric water pumps, allowing plant operators to keep a steady flow of water into the reactor cooling systems and spent-fuel ponds, keeping their temperatures at a manageable level. The line will be tested soon, but TEPCO could not say when.

In response to a spike in measured radiation, plant workers pulled back March 16 to a safe distance from the plant, leaving behind a skeleton crew to handle basic plant operations.

The plant was never fully evacuated, according to reports, but how many workers stayed behind is not known. Radiation levels have since dropped, and many workers have returned.

Plant operators discussed working with Japan's Self Defense Forces to use helicopters to pour water onto reactor fires in a similar fashion to putting out a forest fire.

The plan has not yet been carried out as officials questioned the effectiveness of the strategy and the danger of exposing airborne crews to that level of radiation.

TEPCO reports that four out of five pump vehicles used to circulate seawater into Fukushima's reactors are working.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed core damage in Units No. 1, 2 and 3. Reactor vessels are still intact, according to reports.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said he plans to leave Vienna for Japan March 17 to meet with nuclear engineers and government officials in Japan.

In the U.S., Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before Congress and said that it is hard to know in exact detail what is happening at the Fukushima plant.

The U.S. embassy in Japan's capital city, Tokyo, has instructed Americans who live within 50 miles of the power plant to either leave the area or stay indoors. The British government has advised its citizens along similar lines.

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