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Nuclear plants told to improve power links

Japan’s nuclear safety agency told plant operators to check and improve outside power links to avoid earthquake-related breakdowns similar to those causing the country’s current nuclear crisis.

A magnitude-5.9 aftershock jolted the region north of Tokyo, but there were no initial reports of damage or risks from tsunamis similar to the one last month that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, causing Japan’s worst nuclear plant disaster.

Thirteen nuclear plant operators, including Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), which runs the radiation-leaking Fukushima plant, were told to check disaster resistance and report back by 16 May, Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Meanwhile, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that a secret plan to dismantle Tepco was circulating within the government.

The proposal calls for putting the privately-held company under close government supervision before putting it into bankruptcy and thoroughly restructuring its assets.

Most government offices were closed today and the report could not be immediately confirmed.

Power outages during a strong aftershock on 7 April drove home the need to ensure that plants are able to continue to operate crucial cooling systems and other equipment despite earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters, Mr Nishiyama said.

Utility companies were ordered to reinforce the quake resistance of power lines connected to each reactor or to rebuild them. They also must store all electrical equipment in watertight structures. The massive 15m wave that swamped Fukushima Dai-ichi last month knocked out emergency generators meant to power cooling systems.

Since then, explosions, fires and other malfunctions have compounded efforts by Tepco to repair the plant and stem radiation leaks.

Earlier, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had ordered plant operators to store at least two emergency back-up generators per reactor and to install fire pumps and power supply vehicles as further precautions.

The crisis at the Fukushima plant has forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate to avoid exposure to radiation. Yesterday Tepco announced plans to pay £7,300 initial compensation to each evacuated household.

But many evacuees said the payment would be far too little to offset the losses and costs.

“I’m not satisfied,” said Kazuko Suzuki, a 49-year-old single mother from Futaba, who had to leave her job at a welfare office to take refuge with her two teenage sons at a shelter in a high school north of Tokyo.

“I feel like this is just a way to take care of this quickly.”

Evacuees are unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return.

Tepco expects to pay £368M in the initial round of compensation. As costs mount for the utility, Tepco president Masataka Shimizu said the company would consider cutting executive salaries as well as a number of its more than 52,000 employees.

Radiation leaks from the crisis have contaminated crops and left fishermen in the region unable to sell their catches, adding to the suffering of communities already devastated by earthquake and tsunami damage.

Tepco began dumping sandbags filled with zeolite, a mineral that absorbs radioactive caesium, into the sea in areas heavily contaminated with radiation in an effort to reduce damage from the leaks.

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