Typhoon threatens Japan; precautions at Fukushima nuclear plant


By Aaron Sheldrick

TOKYO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A once-in-a-decade typhoonthreatened Japan on Tuesday, disrupting travel and shipping andforcing precautions to be taken at the wrecked Fukushima nuclearpower plant.

Typhoon Wipha is moving across the Pacific straight towardsthe capital, Tokyo, and is expected to make landfall during themorning rush hour on Wednesday, bringing hurricane-force windsto the metropolitan area of 30 million people.

The centre of the storm was 860 km (535 miles) southwest ofTokyo at 0800 GMT, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on itswebsite. It was moving north-northeast at 35 kph (22 mph).

The storm had weakened as it headed north over the sea butwas still packing sustained winds of about 140 kph (87 mph) withgusts as high as 194 kph (120 mph), the agency said.

The agency issued warnings for Tokyo of heavy rain, floodingand gales, and advised people to be prepared to leave theirhomes quickly and to avoid unnecessary travel.

A spokesman for the meteorological agency said the storm wasa "once in a decade event".

The typhoon is expected to sweep through northern Japanafter making landfall and to pass near the crippled Fukushimanuclear power plant, on the coast 220 km (130 miles) northeastof Tokyo, later on Wednesday.

The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Corp, which has been struggling to contain radioactiveleaks, said it would cancel all offshore work and it woulddecide whether to continue work onshore after assessing theweather.

The utility will also take down cranes and secure allcables, hoses and machinery, a company spokesman said.


Tokyo Electric said it would pump out the rainwater expectedto fall into protective containers at the base of some 1,000tanks storing radioactive water.

The radioactive water is a by-product of its jerry-riggedcooling system designed to keep under control reactors wreckedin a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The rainwater that builds up will be pumped into an emptytank, checked for radioactivity, and if uncontaminated, releasedinto the sea, the company said.

Typhoon Wipha is the strongest storm to approach easternJapan since October 2004. That cyclone triggered floods andlandslides that killed almost 100 people, forced thousands fromtheir homes and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Four Japanese oil refining companies said they suspendedmarine berth shipments in eastern Japan as the typhoonapproached but there was no impact on refining operations.

The affected facilities are Idemitsu Kosan Co's Chiba and Aichi refineries, JX Holdings Inc's Negishi,Kashima and Sendai refineries, Fuji Oil Co's Sodegaurarefinery and Cosmo Oil Co's Chiba refinery.

Japan Airlines Co cancelled 183 domestic flights onTuesday and Wednesday, mostly from Tokyo's Haneda airport. RivalANA Holdings Inc halted 210 flights in Japan with threeinternational flights also cancelled. The combined cancellationswill affect 60,850 passengers, the airlines said.

East Japan Railway Co said it had cancelled 31bullet trains going north and west from Tokyo.

Nissan Motor Co said it was cancelling theWednesday morning shift at its Oppama and Yokohama plants southof Tokyo. Oppama makes the all-electric Leaf and other models.

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