Worker at Japan's tsunami-hit nuclear plant dies

May 14, 2011 - 2:44 AM
Japan Earthquake

Hamaoka nuclear power plant owned by Cubu Electric Power Co. stands near the ocean in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, Friday, May 13, 2011. Chubu Electric, which supplies electricity to central Japan, including the city of Toyota, where the automaker is based, said steps to idle the No. 4 reactor at the plant started Friday. The company expects to begin halting the No. 5 reactor, its only other operating reactor, on Saturday. Prime Minister Naoto Kan requested a temporary shutdown at the plant amid concerns an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 or higher could strike central Japan sometime within 30 years. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

TOKYO (AP) — The operator of Japan's tsunami-wrecked nuclear power plant said a contract worker in his 60s died Saturday after collapsing at the facility's waste disposal building, adding that his body showed no signs of dangerous levels of radioactivity.

The man was carrying equipment at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant when he collapsed. He died later in hospital, said Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Naoyuki Matsumoto.

The company does not know the cause of his death, Matsumoto said. The man had begun working Friday at the waste disposal building, which stores radioactive-contaminated water that has leaked from the plant's tsunami-crippled reactors.

He had been wearing a radiation protection suit, mask and gloves, and no radioactivity at harmful levels was detected in his body, the spokesman said.

The Fukushima plant lost its power and cooling systems in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, triggering fires, explosions and radiation leaks in the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

The March disaster is believed to have killed more than 24,500 people. Police said Friday that 15,019 were dead and 9,506 were still listed as missing.

Radiation leaks at the Fukushima plant have forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the nuclear facility to leave their homes.

The nuclear crisis at Fukushima has prompted the government to evaluate all of Japan's 54 reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability, leading Prime Minister Naoto Kan to request a temporary shutdown of a nuclear power plant in central Japan.

Chubu Electric said its Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka was completely shut down Saturday following the premier's request. The Hamaoka facility sits above a major fault line and has long been considered Japan's riskiest nuclear power plant.

The company said operations would be halted until it had built new safety structures, including a giant seawall, to protect the plant from tsunami and quakes. It said it will take a few years to complete the safety works.