Efforts to reconnect power lines resume at Fukushima N-plant

Tokyo/Fukushima: Battling to avert a widespread disaster, emergency workers at Japan`s quake- crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Tuesday stepped up efforts to cool overheating reactors and restore power, as authorities sought the US military`s help in tackling the "extremely tough" situation.

The critical work at the plant was stalled yesterday after smoke rose from No.2 and No.3 reactors, sparking fears of fresh radiation leaks from the area rocked by the March 11 quake of magnitude 9 and devastating tsunami that left nearly 22,000 people dead or unaccounted for in Japan`s northeast.

Although white smoke, possibly steam, was still found to be billowing from the buildings housing the No.2 and No.3 reactors, the plant`s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said it was not obstructing electricity restoration work.

Firefighters and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel were also ready to restart their mission to spray tonnes of coolant water onto spent nuclear fuel pools at the No.3 and No.4 reactors, according to TEPCO.

An external power source was connected to the No.4 reactor this morning, making it the fifth of the plant`s six reactors to have regained the power supply needed for the restoration of a ventilation system to filter radioactive substances from the air and some measuring tools at the control room, Kyodo news agency reported.

Following the powerful quake and tsunami, the cooling functions failed at the No.1, No.2 and No.3 reactors and their cores are believed to have partially melted.

Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said that the smoke rising from the No.2 reactor were vapours caused by water-discharging operations. He said the blackish smoke was detected yesterday at the No.3 reactor as some rubble had caught fire following a rise in temperature.

Japanese defence authorities have also sought support of the US military to jointly tackle the ongoing nuclear crisis and coordination is underway, Kitazawa said.

SDF helicopters will begin measuring "drastically changing" temperatures at the plant daily except for rainy days to "relieve people`s concerns," instead of the earlier planned twice a week, he said.

Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said separately that the situation remained "extremely tough."

"It is difficult to say that things are showing progress…," he was quoted as saying.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan had yesterday said that slow but "steady progress" is being made in tackling the brewing crisis at the quake-hit power plant.

TEPCO also began studying the crisis` impact on the sea after detecting highly concentrated radioactive substances such as iodine and cesium in seawater near the plant`s water discharging outlets, which the nuclear safety agency said will not pose immediate health threats.

Police yesterday said the death toll had risen to 9,079, while 12,645 people remained missing.

More than 350,000 people were still living in evacuation centres in northern and eastern Japan, many of them short of food and water.

The Japanese government may need to create three different supplementary budgets for fiscal 2011 to finance reconstruction work after the devastating earthquake, National Policy Minister Koichiro Gemba said.

"Damage is widespread. (Drawing extra budgets) twice will likely not be sufficient," Gemba was quoted as saying by Kyodo after a Cabinet meeting.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda also said that it is necessary for the ruling and opposition parties to swiftly discuss the budget.

"I would like to benefit from the expertise" of the opposition camp, Noda was quoted as telling the House of Councillors Budget Committee.