KASHIWAZAKI, Japan - Japanese authorities are Tuesday investigating a second nuclear scare and dozens of other problems discovered at a massive power plant following a deadly earthquake.
Fires, leakages of water and oil, misplaced duct pipes and broken equipment, have been recorded since the 6.8 magnitude quake hit the area of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility on Monday, its operator said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a total of 50 operating faults had been detected at the sprawling nuclear site in central Japan, thought to be the world's largest.
"We know for now that there were two cases of radioactive leakages, although we are still not sure if both cases were directly caused by the earthquake," said company spokesman Hiroshi Itagaki late Tuesday.
"But we at least know that 50 cases of malfunctions have been discovered at the nuclear reactor facility following the disaster," he added.
The company had earlier said that about 100 sealed barrels filled with contaminated clothes and gloves tipped over at nuclear complex in Monday's powerful quake, which killed nine people and injured more than 1,000.
The lids of several barrels opened up inside the plant, said to be the world's largest, said Shoji Iida, a spokesman for Kariwa village.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier chided Tokyo Electric, saying its reports to authorities were "not quick enough."
"I sternly told the company to strictly, swiftly and immediately report such incidents," said Abe, who broke off campaigning for key July 29 elections to respond to the earthquake.
"I want it to feel responsible," he told reporters.
Tokyo Electric had admitted late Monday that water containing a "small amount of radioactive material" leaked into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) from the plant, located near the epicentre.
A large fire also sent black smoke billowing out of the electricity supplying part of the facility for hours.
Tokyo Electric also said Tuesday it had detected radiation particles in the filter of a reactor halted in the earthquake. But it said the particles were a only one-ten millionth of what is legally deemed dangerous.
"I'm very worried about the power plant because nuclear power officials have made false statements on radioactive leaks in the past," said resident Koichi Ibe, 83.
Rescue teams, who had spent the night digging through rubble, on Tuesday turned their attention to the 12,000 people who have sought refuge at shelters in the hard-hit coastal city of Kashiwazaki, many of them elderly.
All nine victims of Monday's quake were in their 70s and 80s.
Many survivors were already feeling the stress, such as Chiyo Nakamura, 71, who uses a pacemaker and said she does not have the strength to go to her home, one of hundreds damaged in the tremor.
"I visited a shelter to ask for some food but they said none was left," she said. "Luckily, I was given rice balls by a friend of mine, but I'm concerned about what's going to happen tomorrow."
It was the deadliest earthquake in disaster-prone Japan since October 2004, when a tremor in the same area and at the same magnitude killed 67 people.
Learning a lesson from the last tragedy, in which most of the deaths took place after the initial jolt, relief teams worked to ease fatigue among older citizens.
"Nurses are especially focusing on caring for the health of the elderly," said Takahiro Tanaka, a municipal employee in Kariwa.
"We are providing people with bottled water, bread, rice balls and instant noodles."
The Japanese Red Cross Society said it was urging elderly people to drink enough water after finding that some were holding back because of the limited number of lavatories at the more than 120 shelters.
"We are urging them to have enough water and food," said Red Cross spokesman Mizufumi Yokoyama. "We're also encouraging them to have a good rest and to stretch their bodies periodically."
The defence ministry dispatched some 450 troops and seven battleships early Tuesday to support rescue operations in the region, which has been rattled by nearly 100 aftershocks.
Japan, which has few natural energy resources of its own, relies on nuclear power for nearly 35 percent of its needs, the second highest figure among Group of Eight industrial nations after France.
Government plans to build more nuclear plants have often met public opposition in Japan, which is particularly sensitive about nuclear leaks as it is the only country to have been attacked with atomic weapons.
Copyright © AFP 2007