Tuesday, July 17, 2007

TOKYO, Japan (AP) - A strong earthquake struck northwestern Japan on Monday, causing a radioactive water leak and fire at one of the world's most powerful nuclear power plants and turning buildings into piles of lumber. At least seven people were killed and hundreds injured.

The plant leaked about a half-gallon of water in a building housing one of its reactors, said Katsuya Uchino, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. official.

Uchino said the water contained a tiny amount of radioactive material -- a billionth of the guideline under Japanese law -- and is believed to have flushed into the Sea of Japan.

A company statement said the leak had stopped and that there had been no "significant change" in the seawater under surveillance and no effect on the environment.

The reactor automatically shut down at the time of the leak, the report said. The quake triggered a fire at an electrical transformer at the plant, but Tokyo Electric Power Co. said earlier in the day that the reactor was not damaged.

Flames and billows of black smoke poured from the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant -- the world's largest in terms of power output capacity. Photo See crumbled roads and homes after the killer quake »

Aileen Mioko Smith, of the environmentalist group Green Action, said the fire showed that some facilities at nuclear power plants such as electrical transformers were built to lower quake-resistance levels than other equipment such as reactor cores.

"That's the Achilles heel of nuclear power plants," said Mioko Smith, who said it took the plant two hours to extinguish the fire. "Today's a good example of that... How prepared are they to put out fires when they happen?

The earthquake, which left fissures 3 feet wide in the ground along the coast, hit shortly after 10 a.m. local time and was centered off Niigata state. Buildings swayed 160 miles away in Tokyo. Sirens wailed in Kashiwazaki, a city of about 90,000, which appeared to be hardest hit.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/07/16/japan.quake.ap/index.html