Smoke at Japan nuclear plant, workers evacuated

OSAKA (AFP) – Workers were temporarily evacuated from part of the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan Monday after a plume of smoke rose from one reactor, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said.

At 3:55 pm (0655 GMT), a "light grey plume of smoke" rose from reactor number three, a TEPCO spokesman told reporters.

"Due to this problem, the operator temporarily pulled out the workers, while checking on the condition of the site," the spokesman said.

AFP - This image, released by the Japanese Self Defence Ministry on March 19 shows a fire engine dousing reactor number 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.

Another TEPCO official told AFP: "We have evacuated workers near the number three reactor, not the whole Fukushima No. 1 plant."

Engineers at the stricken facility, located 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, are racing to fix disabled cooling systems and restore power, as fire trucks spray water to help cool reactor fuel-rod pools.

The cooling systems -- designed to protect the plant's six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown -- were knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's northeast Pacific coast on March 11.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said earlier that the country was making "slow but steady progress" in its battle to bring the situation under control, according to a government spokesman.

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