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UPDATE: Why the water cooling system at Fukushima nuclear plant stopped

Damage from the 2011 earthquake. Picture: Getty Images

UPDATE: The cooling system at the Fukushima nuclear plant is back online.

Earlier this morning, officials were “trying to establish what’s gone wrong” at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck 67km off the coast of Japan this morning, and tsunamis have been recorded hitting the east coast.

Officials at the plant originally said they had noted no irregularities with the plant, but at 9.15am AEDT, news came through that the plant’s water cooling system “appears to have stopped”, although the operator of the plant said there was no immediate danger.

At 10.05am AEDT, NHK confirmed the cooling equipment for the spent nuclear fuel pool in the reactor number three of Tepco’s Fukushima number two power plant wasn’t working.

An official spokesperson from operator Tepco says the earthquake “shook” water in the cooling tanks temporarily, leading to a decline in levels.

That triggered a warning and the plant’s cooling systems stopped, possibly as a precaution to stop them in turn overheating.

The cooling pumps have now resumed and the water in the towers is cooling again.

In the two hours the pumps were off, the spent rods heated the water from 27.7C at 6.10am to 29.5C. However, officials say that was “within safe range” and the water would have to heat for a week to reach a dangerous level.

The plant currently stores around 1000 tanks of contaminated water, and no leakage has been noted yet.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga says, “We have been informed that there is no immediate risk of radiation leaks or rise in the temperatures (of the cooling pool).”

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