Nuke plant blaze burns worker

NIIGATA (Kyodo) A fire broke out Thursday in an underground pump cabin that cools the No. 1 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, leaving a worker with minor facial burns, firefighters said.

There was no radioactive leak from the reactor, which has been suspended along with the six others at the plant since it was struck by a major earthquake in July 2007, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

The fire, the eighth during checkups carried out since the suspension, was extinguished about 30 minutes after it started shortly before 9 a.m., the firefighters said.

They suspect an organic solvent, a chemical material the worker was getting prepared to use in the area, caused the fire.

The 39-year-old man was taken to a nearby hospital. There were no other reports of injuries in the incident.

It occurred as the utility tries to secure final approval from local authorities to restart part of the plant.

On Feb. 13, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency gave the green light to Tepco to restart the No. 7 reactor after concluding it was ready for a test run.

The nuclear plant, the world’s largest in terms of output, has been shut down since July 16, 2007, when a magnitude 6.8 quake set off a fire and killed at least 10 people in the area. A small amount of radioactive water leaked into the sea.

Harufumi Mochizuki, vice minister of economy, trade and industry, said it is “extremely regrettable” that the plant had another fire.

A fire broke out at the No. 6 reactor in November and another at the No. 7 reactor in December.

But Mochizuki said the latest fire was unlikely to have any impact on the process of deciding whether to restart the No. 7 reactor.

“The issues regarding the safety of the No. 7 reactor (and the latest fire) are different,” he said at a news conference.

The safety agency, which is under the wing of the ministry, said it will conduct on-site inspections of the No. 1 reactor Friday.

Tepco has finished reinforcing the quake resistance of the No. 6 and 7 reactors at a cost of about ¥30 billion.

The remaining five reactors still need to go through a range of inspections.