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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 18:04 UK

Nuclear safety fears after quake

The nuclear power plant at Kashiwazaki, Japan - 17/07/2007
The Kashiwazaki nuclear power is closed for further inspections

Officials at a Japanese nuclear power plant have reported 50 malfunctions caused by Monday's strong earthquake near the town of Kashiwazaki.

In addition to a fire, there were leaks of radioactive water and gas and drums containing nuclear waste burst open.

The company running the plant has said none of the leaks are harmful to people or the environment.

But the industry's safety is being questioned and PM Shinzo Abe said the problems were not reported soon enough.

Mr Abe said "nuclear power plants can only be operated with the trust of the people".

"For this, if something happens they need to report on it thoroughly and quickly," he told reporters in Tokyo.

Army help

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake killed nine people and flattened hundreds of homes in the coastal town of Kashiwazaki in Niigata prefecture.

Map

Large parts of Kashiwazaki remain without power and water and about 10,000 people are spending a second night in evacuation centres.

"I can't sleep here because I can't feel at ease, because this is different from home," Katsuro Iida, 73, told Reuters news agency.

Fresh water has been delivered to the town by lorry and soldiers are helping prepare food at the evacuation centres.

Safety concerns

Although four of the seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant that were operating when the quake hit were shut down automatically, it is now emerging that there were a series of malfunctions.

A small fire broke out at an electrical transformer at the power plant sending black clouds of smoke into the sky.

Officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said on Monday that 1,200 litres of water containing small amounts of radioactive material had leaked and been diverted into the sea.

Police pass by a collapsed house in Kashiwazaki

On Tuesday, Tepco said 100 barrels containing radioactive waste had been knocked over and burst open and that major exhaust pipes had been knocked out of place.

Small amounts of gas containing radioactive cobalt-60 and chromium-51 were emitted into the atmosphere.

"They raised the alert too late," said Mr Abe. "I have sent stern instructions that such alerts must be raised seriously and swiftly."

Officials at the plant are keeping all seven of its reactors closed while further inspections are carried out.

There have long been concerns about the safety of Japan's nuclear power plants, which many fear are vulnerable in earthquakes.

The country is heavily reliant on the industry - it provides about a third of Japan's electricity needs.

The government requires nuclear reactors to be able to withstand earthquakes of up to magnitude 6.5 - weaker than Monday's quake.

Other businesses are also beginning to count the cost of the earthquake.

Riken Corp, which makes car parts for companies such as Honda and Toyota, says it is unsure when it will be able to resume production at its factory in Kashiwazaki after the quake injured some of its employees and damaged equipment.

Fuji Xerox has also had to halt production at its Kashiwazaki plant, which mainly assembles printers, because it is without power and there has been some damage to the building.


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