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Smoke slows race to cool Japan nuclear plant

21 march 2011, 21:21
Smoke is belching from a stricken nuclear plant in Japan on Monday, disrupting urgent efforts to repair the cooling systems as Tokyo halted some food shipments owing to radiation worries, AFP reports.

Rain meanwhile complicated rescue efforts and compounded the misery of tsunami survivors fearful of dangerous radioactive leaks from the wrecked Fukushima power station, which has suffered a series of explosions and fires.

Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said Tokyo had ordered the suspension of shipments of milk and certain vegetables including spinach from regions around the plant after abnormal radiation levels were found in the products.

But "even if you eat and drink them several times it will not be a health hazard. So I would like you to act calmly," Edano said at a televised news conference.

Workers were forced to evacuate from part of the troubled Fukushima plant, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of the capital, after grey smoke rose from reactor number three, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

The cause was unclear but it was not believed to be linked to the all-important efforts to restore power to the reactor unit systems, officials said.

The smoke abated more than two hours later but white smoke was later seen rising from the number two reactor, although there were no immediate reports of an increase in radiation from the plant.

Shortly before the crews' evacuation, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said there was "slow but steady progress" in dealing with the atomic crisis.

Before the smoke incident, the nuclear safety agency had said engineers were close to restoring some functions in the control room of reactor number two, such as temperature and pressure instruments and the air filtering system.

"As a result, the environment for workers will significantly improve," an agency official said.

The cooling systems -- designed to protect the plant's six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown -- were knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's northeast Pacific coast on March 11.

Fire trucks have been spraying water to help cool the reactor units, but those operations were also disrupted by the smoke scare.
"Workers' efforts at the risk of their lives have made the situation progress little by little," Kan said, according to a government spokesman.

By Hiroshi Hiyama

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