Staff race to save Fukushima plant from Japan storm

TOKYO, September 21, 2011 (AFP) - Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Japan's Pacific coast were racing against time to ready the crippled plant against a powerful typhoon heading straight for it, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Loose cables and hoses were being tied down and efforts made to ensure radiation was not whipped up by winds that have been recorded at more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) an hour.

Teams were putting sheeting over holes in the reactor buildings to try to prevent torrential rain from getting inside the stricken reactors.

Typhoon Roke, packing winds of up to 216 kilometres per hour, made landfall near Hamamatsu, central Japan, at about 2:00pm (0500 GMT) and was on course to move northeast across the major island of Honshu toward the plant.

"We have taken every possible measure against the typhoon," said Naoki Tsunoda, a spokesman at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the power plant.

"We have tied down cables and hoses while fixing equipment so that radioactive materials would not spread (in violent winds)," he said, adding operations on the ground and at sea had been suspended.

He said tarpaulin was being placed over any holes in the buildings in a bid to limit the amount of water getting inside.

However, the company believed tidal barriers built after the March tsunami that swamped the plant were sufficient to protect it from any storm surge, and no extra sandbags were being put in place.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11 unleashed a towering tsunami that smashed into the nuclear plant, knocking out key cooling systems, triggering explosions and meltdowns that released radiation into the environment.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes in a 20 kilometre radius around the plant as workers battle to bring it to a "cold shutdown" and prevent any further radiation leaks.

The government has said it is on course to have the disaster -- the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century -- under control by the end of the year.

But widespread distrust of atomic technology in post-Fukushima Japan has left the country facing potential energy shortfalls as local communities object to bringing shuttered nuclear plants back online.