Tepco Chief Rebuffed As Nuclear Crisis Enters Second Month

Tepco President Masataka Shimizu
Tepco President Masataka Shimizu. Photographer: JIJI PRESS/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

The head of Tokyo Electric Power Co. was refused a meeting with the governor of Fukushima, where the utility is battling radiation leaks from its atomic station at the center of Japan’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

Masataka Shimizu, president of the utility known as Tepco, asked to meet Yuhei Sato while visiting the prefectural capital today and was turned down, company spokesman Kazuo Yamanaka said. The governor had declined a meeting on March 22.

One month after an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, Japan’s government extended the evacuation zone after radiation levels rose in areas outside the 20 kilometer radius. Tepco told workers at the station to move to higher ground following a 7.1-magnitude temblor today. Protesters marched in Tokyo yesterday as public anger over the utility’s response to the crisis grows.

“Japan needs to investigate what happened and determine what actions should be taken at other nuclear plants and explain this to the Japanese people and the world,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hokkaido University. “That will help restore trust in nuclear power.”

Shimizu, 66, discharged from hospital last week following treatment for hypertension due to the crisis, made his second public appearance since the March 11 earthquake. he visited Tepco’s offsite center for managing the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station on his first trip to the city since an earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant one month ago.

He briefly spoke to reporters in Fukushima city, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Tokyo, and apologized again for the nuclear crisis.

‘Around the Clock’

“We are working around the clock to bring the situation under control,” Shimizu said, according to a Tepco statement.

Shimizu left his business card on the desk of Governor Sato, who was out of the office when the Tepco chief called on him, company spokesman Daisuke Hirose said.

A 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Japan’s Tohoku region, southwest of Iwaki, the United States Geological Survey said today. A tsunami warning was issued for Ibaraki prefecture, with a wave as high as 1 meter estimated to have already hit, public broadcaster NHK said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will address the nation later today, as the crisis enters its second month. More than 60 percent of voters disapprove of Kan’s handling of the nuclear disaster, according to a Yomiuri newspaper poll published on April 4.

The magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11, Japan’s strongest on record, and tsunami left about 27,500 dead or missing, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. The government has estimated the damage at 25 trillion yen ($295 billion). Tepco may face claims of as much as 11 trillion yen, according to one estimate.

Sirens Wail

Sirens wailed across Japan and residents in cities and towns along the devastated northeastern coast held a minutes silence at 14:46 p.m., the time the quake struck last month.

Tepco is using emergency equipment to cool reactors damaged at the atomic station after backup generators were knocked out by the tsunami.

The utility is trying to remove highly contaminated water that’s holding up efforts to get the cooling pumps working and prevent further explosions after blasts damaged reactor containment vessels, releasing radiation into the air and sea and tainting food.

Steam, Nitrogen Leak

Radioactive steam and nitrogen is escaping from the containment vessel at the No. 1 reactor and the company is checking radiation levels around the reactor, spokeswoman Megumi Iwashita said by phone today.

Tepco started injecting nitrogen into the vessel to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion. The pressure inside the vessel is rising more slowly than expected, indicating a leak, Iwashita said. Work continues at the reactor and other parts of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station, she said.

Earlier today, the company said a hydrogen explosion was unlikely at the No. 1 unit.

“The situation is getting messier, especially at reactor No. 1,” Lauri Myllyvirta, a campaigner for Greenpeace told reporters in Tokyo today. “It seems likely that re-criticality or chain reactions in the fuel are taking place in there. Water isn’t going to be a solution for cooling the extra heat that generates.”

The environment group urged the government to extend the exclusion zone and said pregnant woman and children should be evacuated from “high risk areas” in Fukushima city, which is about 61 kilometers from the plant, and nearby Koriyama.

Cooling Reactors

Tepco has sought to cool reactors by dousing them with millions of liters of water. The utility delayed discharging water with low levels of radioactivity into the sea, Nakagawa said today, holding up plans to transfer more contaminated fluids from a trench at the station’s No. 2 reactor to a condenser.

About 60,000 metric tons of contaminated water lies in the basements of turbine buildings and trenches around the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors, the company said last week. Tepco needs to drain the water to restore reactor cooling systems in the turbine buildings.

The tsunami rose to as high as 15 meters (49 feet) at the station, Tepco said on April 9. The base of the station is about 10 meters above sea level.

“Most of the area around the reactor buildings and turbine housings was swamped,” the utility said in a statement.

Tepco said on April 8 that the station, which has six reactors and is about 220 kilometers north of Tokyo, wasn’t further damaged by a magnitude-7.1 aftershock on April 7.

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