Japan orders immediate safety upgrade at nuclear plants

TOKYO, (Reuters) – Japan ordered an immediate  safety upgrade at its 55 nuclear power plants today in  its first acknowledgement that standards were inadequate when an  earthquake and tsunami wrecked one of the facilities nearly  three weeks ago.
Adding to the evidence of radiation leakages around the  crippled nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo,  readings showed radioactive iodine in the sea off the plant at  record levels. The state nuclear safety agency said the amounts  were 3,355 times the legal limit.
A Reuters investigation showed Japan and plant operator  Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) repeatedly played down  dangers at its nuclear plants and ignored warnings — including  a 2007 tsunami study from the utility’s senior safety engineer.
The research paper concluded there was a roughly 10 percent  chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span  based on the most conservative assumptions.
The new safety steps, to be completed by the end of April,    include preparing back-up power in case of loss of power supply,  and having fire trucks with hoses ready at all times to  intervene and ensure cooling systems for both reactors and pools  of used fuel are maintained, the Trade Ministry said.
Other measures such as building higher protective sea walls  would be studied after a full assessment of the Fukushima  disaster, officials said.
The immediate measures do not necessarily require nuclear  plant operations to be halted, Minister of Economy, Trade and  Industry Banri Kaieda told a news conference.
“These are the minimum steps we can think of right now that  should be done immediately,” said Kaieda.
“We shouldn’t wait until a so-called overhaul or a  comprehensive revision — something major that would take a long  time — is prepared. We should do whatever we can if and when  there is something (which safety authorities agree is) viable  and necessary,” he said.
Before the disaster, Japan’s nuclear reactors had provided  about 30 percent of the nation’s electric power. The percentage  had been expected to rise to 50 percent by 2030, among the  highest in the world.

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