05/24/2011, 00.00
JAPAN
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New partial meltdown at Fukushima reactors

TEPCO confirms “cold shutdown” by January 2012. The Ministry of Education increases the radiation limits for schools. The decision to avoid the closure of three quarters of institutions Fukushima, and the loss of the academic year for hundreds of thousands of students.

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The fuel rods of reactors N. 2 and 3 at the Fukushima plant are now also partially fused. The Tokyo Electricity Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the plant, says that the new discovery does not alter the company's plans to achieve a "cold shutdown" of the plant by January 2012. The fuel rods of the No. 1 reactor fused immediately after the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March, the engineers say. The damage to the No. 2 reactor began three days after the earthquake. The uranium fuel rods in the No. 3 reactor began to suffer damages in the afternoon of March 13. The damage caused by earthquake and tsunami affected the reactor cooling system, which now, however, technicians claim, is in a stable condition, and are being cooled. The meltdown and radioactive leak has forced the creation of a safety zone of 20 km around the plant where it is forbidden to enter, and the evacuation of some nearby towns.

Meanwhile the government has decided to lower the level of nuclear safety in schools, raising the limits of radiation to which children may be exposed. The decision has provoked protests and demonstrations by parents. Under the new rules Japanese children may be exposed to radiation 20 times stronger than in the past. The new rules mean that the level of radiation allowed for a Japanese child is equivalent to that of a German nuclear worker.

The government has defended its decision saying that it is necessary to keep schools open in the Fukushima area. According to the group "Physicians for Social Responsibility" children now have one chance in 200 of developing cancer, compared with a probability of one in 500 guaranteed by the old rules. Controversy is also raging within the government. The chief scientific adviser to the prime minister has resigned in protest. The government said it had no choice. Three quarters of schools had to close Fukushima, excluding hundreds of thousands of children from education. Hundreds of parents from Fukushima have travelled to Tokyo demonstrate outside the Ministry of Education.
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