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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oil Spill Threatens Japanese Reactors

MIKUNI, Japan -- Oil from a sunken Russian tanker threatened 15 nuclear reactors along a stretch of coastline known as Japan's "nuclear Ginza" as a disaster headquarters was set up Friday to deal with the crisis.


Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takao Fujimoto ordered the head of the ministry's fisheries agency to the scene and said measures were being considered to help fishermen hit by the spill.


Along the coastline south of Mikuni, power companies with nuclear plants in the area meanwhile rushed to erect fences to contain oil from the Nakhodka, which sank during a heavy storm in the Sea of Japan on Jan. 2.


"We will consider whether to shut down reactors depending on the situation," said Kazutoshi Tomita, a spokesman for Kansai Electric Power Inc., which operates 11 reactors in Wakasa Bay, north of Kyoto.


The owner of the Russian tanker offered full compensation for environmental damage and said it was ready to lease special clean-up vessels and send them to Japan from Vladivostok and Sakhalin in the Russian Far East.


Another two reactors operated by Japan Atomic Power Co. are inside the bay and under less of a threat. Two other reactors of the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. are located to the east in Tsuruga Bay.


One reactor in the area, known as the "nuclear Ginza" among residents of nearby Osaka, is a fast-breeder reactor shut down after a sodium leak in 1995. But it still uses seawater as a coolant in part of its maintenance operations.


Coastguard officials reportedly found oil only five kilometers from one nuclear power plant in Wakasa Bay Friday morning.


The newly established disaster headquarters is headed by Transport Minister Makoto Koga. "We want to deal with the situation prudently and swiftly. We will make our utmost efforts," Koga told reporters.


In Moscow, Sergei Vitkazov, head of the Prisco Traffic Company which owned the Nakhodka, said the company would make every effort to help the Japanese clean-up operation and offer full compensation, Interfax reported.


Meanwhile, transport prosecutors in the Russian Pacific port of Nakhodka opened a criminal probe into the loss of the tanker, and a government commission launched its own investigation.


Interfax said the tanker's owners and crew would be questioned by the investigators. Thirty one of the 32 crew returned to Russia on Thursday while the captain of the ship is still missing.


The tanker is believed to have lost at least 3,700 tons of heavy oil but the bow, which ran aground 200 meters from the Mikuni shoreline, may still contain some 2,800 tons of oil.