Japan reactor vessel may be damaged: operator

OSAKA, March 25, 2011 (AFP) - One of the reactor vessels at a stricken Fukushima nuclear power station in Japan may be damaged, the plant's operator said Friday, after high levels of radiation were detected.

Two workers at the plant were hospitalised Thursday with radiation burns after stepping in highly radioactive water in the basement of the number three reactor's turbine building.

Evacuees rest in a shelter in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture on March 25, 2011. AFP

"It is possible that the pressure vessel containing the fuel rods in the reactor is damaged," a spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power Co. told AFP.

The new safety scare is a setback to urgent efforts to restore power to the all-important cooling systems at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, located 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo.

"Radioactive substances have leaked to places far from the (number three) reactor," said a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency, Hideyuki Nishiyama.

"As far as the data show, we believe there is a certain level of containment ability but it's highly possible that the reactor is damaged," he added.

The reactor is a particular concern because it is the only one of six at the ageing facility to use a potentially volatile mix of uranium and plutonium.

A hydrogen explosion badly damaged the unit's outer building on March 14, and a partial meltdown is also suspected.

The control room of the number three reactor has partial power again and engineers have been trying to reconnect a water pump, but work has been hampered by the radioactive water and intermittent black smoke.

The plant was battered by a huge tsunami unleashed by a 9.0-magnitude quake on March 11 and has been leaking radiation that has been detected in food and tap water in some areas.

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