Tokyo, Aug. 9 (Reuters): A leak of high-pressure steam at a Japanese nuclear power plant killed four workers today but authorities said no radiation escaped in the accident, which took place on the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
The incident was one of three at separate plants across Japan today and is sure to increase public distrust of the industry in a country that depends on nuclear power for a third of its energy needs.
“Radioactive materials weren’t contained in the steam that leaked out...there is no impact from radiation on the surrounding environment,” an official from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said.
Police initially said five workers had been scalded to death when a pipe burst, but later corrected the figure to four.
Seven others were injured, three seriously, officials said.
The accident occurred in a building housing turbines for the Number 3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, 320 km west of Tokyo.
“Staff rushed in screaming,” said a woman who was working in the plant’s canteen. “I put in a container all the ice I could find and gave it,” she told Kyodo news agency. The temperature of the leaking steam would have been about 142 degrees Celsius.
An official at Kansai Electric Power, the operator of the plant, said the 826 megawatt nuclear generation unit shut down automatically when the steam leaked from the turbine, which is in a separate building. Kansai Electric said there were no plans to shut any other of its plants for checks.
The workers involved, who were preparing to shut down the plant for maintenance anyway, were all contractors. Officials said 221 people were in the building at the time of the rupture.
“We are now investigating the cause,” Kansai Electric spokesman Ikuo Morinaka said. A NISA official said a 600 millimetre hole had been found in a pipe that feeds steam into the turbine.
In a separate incident at a nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power — Japan’s biggest electricity producer — said today it had shut a nuclear power generation unit at its Fukushima-Daini plant because of a water leak.