Fukushima: Situation still a worry - French agency

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The situation at the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima has somewhat stabilised but "remains precarious," France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said on Saturday.

"After a week of overall deterioration, we are now in a position of stabilisation which remains precarious," the ASN's director general, Jean-Christophe Niel, said as engineers at Fukushima strove to restore the plant's cooling capacity.

"The priority is to regain control over the facility, which is clearly not yet the case," he told reporters.

Thomas Houdre, in charge of the nuclear plants department at the ASN, said he was concerned about tanks containing radioactive spent fuel rods in the plant's No. 3 and No. 4 reactor units.

The rods have to be covered by water in order to keep cool. If they overheat, they can release very high levels of radiation for workers and radioactive debris could be released through the damaged reactor building.

"The pool in No. 3 has been damaged. It can no longer be filled to the scheduled level," Houdre said.

In the spent rod pool at the No. 4 reactor unit, the problem is the very high level of heat coming from the fuel rods, he said. These rods had only recently been withdrawn from the reactor and immersed in the pool in order to cool down, in a scheduled refuelling operation.

Japanese officials said on Saturday that very low levels of radioactivity had been found in milk and spinach from near Fukushima.

Niel noted this report but said the main task was to "resolve the crisis situation" at the plant.

Japan already had safeguards in place for monitoring any food contamination, and the important questions of cleaning up contaminated land and providing compensation should be tackled later, he said.

© 2011 AFP

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