Coolant water injected in N-reactor in Japan

Tokyo/Fukushima: Grappling with the aftermath of last month`s quake and tsunami, Japanese workers on Thursday injected tonnes of coolant water into a reactor core at the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear complex in a bid to stabilise the radiation-leaking plant, amid a record plunge in the country`s industrial production.

The government`s nuclear agency said that the injection of a huge amount of coolant water into the damaged No.1 reactor core has yielded positive signs, with both the temperature and pressure inside the reactor vessel falling.

The plant`s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), yesterday began raising the amount of water from 6 tonnes per hour to 10 tonnes in preparation for flooding the reactor`s primary containment vessel to cool the fuel in a stable manner.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said TEPCO initially planned to increase the amount of water to 14 tonnes per hour, but decided to keep pouring 10 tonnes per hour so as not to cause abnormalities, Kyodo news agency reported.

As TEPCO workers battled to stabilise the radiation-leaking plant, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said that the industrial output stood at 82.9 against the base of 100. This was a drop of 15.3 per cent from the previous month.

The decline was the sharpest since record-keeping began in January 1953. It also far exceeded the previous record of 8.6 per cent logged in February 2009 following the Lehman shock.

The sharp drop is due to the damage to factories caused by the natural disaster, disrupted supply chains and suspension of auto production. All 16 sectors in the ministry`s survey marked falls.

Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano called the industrial data shocking and added that the quake had directly hit manufacturing bases, badly affecting Japan`s corporate output, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Yosano said people are working hard to restore supply chains, and that they should be back to normal sooner than originally expected.

The ministry expects the index to rise in April and May as factories gradually resume production in tsunami-hit areas where nearly 30,000 people were killed or unaccounted for.

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) also downgraded its economic growth forecast for fiscal 2011 to 0.6 per cent from an earlier projected 1.6 per cent.

In its biannual outlook report, the central bank, however, upgraded its estimate of real gross domestic product growth for fiscal 2012 to 2.9 per cent from 2.0 per cent forecast in January, amid expectations that domestic demand would surge as reconstruction work accelerates in the devastated areas, Kyodo reported.

The BOJ "fully recognises considerable uncertainty over the outlook," its Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said. "It is necessary to be mindful of downside risks (to growth), mainly the impact from the earthquake, for the time being."

Japan`s government has submitted to the Diet or Parliament a supplementary budget draft to finance reconstruction of areas hit by the mega quake of magnitude-9 and tsunami last month.

The first supplementary budget plan for the current fiscal year totals over four trillion yen, or about USD 49 billion, nearly four times the size of the budget earmarked after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

The plan calls for allocating USD 14.7 billion for public works projects to restore roads, ports and other infrastructure. USD 4.4 billion is to be used to build temporary housing for evacuees, and USD 4.3 billion to remove and dispose of debris, NHK said.

USD 1.4 billion is to go towards helping affected people receive free medical service, while USD 2.7 billion is to be used to rebuild damaged school buildings and make schools quake-resistant.

Another 6.2 billion is to be set aside to help cash-strapped smaller businesses make ends meet.

Measures in the budget plan are expected to create about 200,000 jobs, mainly in disaster-hit areas.

The government also submitted a bill to ensure funding for the budget.

The bill calls for diversion of some USD 30 billion originally earmarked for the public pension system, as well as a review of a programme to make the nation`s highways toll-free.

Diet deliberations on the supplementary budget plan are expected to be held during the spring holiday season starting tomorrow. The government aims to have the legislation enacted on May 2.

Meanwhile, survivors of the March 11 quake and tsunami mourned those killed in the twin disaster, including students and teachers of an elementary school in Miyagi prefecture.

Photos of the victims from the city-run Okawa Elementary School, which lost 70 per cent of its students, were displayed at a memorial service. The school, which was severely damaged, started a new academic year on April 21.

Today was the 49th day since the disaster. Buddhist services are normally held to mark the day in the belief that it is when the souls of the dead depart for another world.

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