Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Japanese nuclear reactor crisis ‘very serious,’ says UN atomic chief on eve of visit

The Fukushima nuclear power plant ablaze after the massive quake and tsunami hit Japan on 11 March 201116 March 2011 – Repeatedly calling the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan “very serious,” the head of the United Nations agency that coordinates global nuclear safety announced today that he will make a flying visit to the country to see what further help he can offer.

But International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano said he would spend one night in the country and then report back to the IAEA Board of Governors.

“I will fly to Japan as soon as possible, hopefully tomorrow, to get the latest information from them and learn from our Japanese counterparts how best the IAEA can help them,” he told a news conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Mr. Amano, who said he would like to receive better information from the Japanese, is also sending two teams of experts to Japan, one on nuclear safety, the other on radiation protection, in response to the nuclear crisis that resulted from power being cut to the reactors’ cooling systems at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant when a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the country last Friday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to again extend his sympathy at the catastrophic impact of the quake and tsunami, which may have claimed well in excess of 10,000 lives, according to media reports, and cut a vast swathe of total devastation along the north-eastern coast of Honshu, the largest island.

The two also discussed the situation at Fukushima. “The Secretary-General remains very concerned while appreciating the Government of Japan’s efforts to contain the risk to the population,” spokesperson Martin Nesirky told a news briefing in New York, adding that Mr. Ban assured Mr. Kan that the UN stands ready to provide any additional support if requested.

The Security Council began its meeting today with a minute’s silence for the victims of the quake and tsunami. Meanwhile the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been asked to assist in relief efforts, providing specialized logistics support in delivering water, tents, and blankets to families who have spent many nights already in freezing temperatures without heating and other necessities.

Mr. Amano began his news briefing with the stark comment: “The situation is very serious.” He cited confirmed damage to three cores, which remain partially uncovered by cooling waters.

“We do not know the exact situation inside the reactor vessels, but the pressure inside remains above atmospheric pressure; this suggests that they remain largely intact,” he said, noting that increased temperatures have also been observed at spent fuel ponds and the radiation dose rates in Tokyo and other cities have increased “very slightly” to levels that he stressed are not dangerous to humans’ health.

Mr. Amano said he would like to have high-level contacts during his brief trip but did not know yet whom he would meet. “If I wait until everything is fixed it will be too late, so there are some uncertainties, but I decided to go and do my best to reach the people who are handling this issue… it is like running and thinking, this is unavoidable in such a situation,” he noted.

While stressing that he did not mean that he was frustrated, Mr. Amano said he would like to see “better communication of information both in quantity and quality. There is constant information but there certainly is room for improvements,” he added.

Neither Mr. Amano nor agency experts would be drawn on whether the situation was out of control at the Fukushima Daiichi plant when quizzed on the issue.

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