A reactor unit at the quake-and-tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan will soon be enveloped in a special “emergency cover”. This would serve as a short-term measure, pending the eventual installation of a long-term “radiation shield”, according to the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).

While the preparatory work was being started now, Tepco said the actual installation of the cover for Unit 1 at the multi-reactor plant would begin in June. The entire exercise was being so designed as to minimise the exposure of workers to high levels of radiation at the unit. While the company did not specify, in its latest statement on this subject, that Unit 1 was now in a state of melt-down, observers were of this view.

A worker belonging to one of Tepco's sub-contracting firms became unconscious on Saturday at the centralised environment facility of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The company said radioactive substances were “not found ... attached to the worker”. Although the worker was later reported dead, there was no immediate confirmation by the company itself.

On another front in Japan's continuing nuclear crisis, two active reactors at the Hamaoka plant in central Japan were completely shut down by Saturday in accordance with a directive from Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The plant's operator announced the shut-down schedule on Friday.

Zero-output readings at the two reactors were televised locally on Saturday, but there was no immediate statement by the plant authorities on the total suspension of operations at all five reactors of the Hamaoka plant. Two of these reactors were already earmarked for decommissioning, while another unit was under maintenance shut-down when Mr. Kan made his appeal.

The Hamaoka plant was asked to suspend operations so that steps could be taken to make it resistant to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis. The advice was based on expert-forecast of an eight-magnitude quake in the plant area within the next 30 years.

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