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Spill nears nuclear plants in Japan; ships put up oil fence

January 10, 1997

MIKUNI, Japan (AP) _ Japan’s coast guard began putting a boom around parts of a massive oil spill today to prevent it from leaching into nuclear power plants on the coast.

The oil spill _ one of the country’s worst _ has tainted a 125-mile stretch of Japan’s western coast.

At Mikuni, the worst-hit town, 150 soldiers joined 1,000 local fishermen and volunteers in shoveling muck from an oil-fouled beach for a third day today.

Women who make their living by diving to harvest seaweed laughed and joked as they passed buckets of the sludge ashore _ but only because it helped pass the time.

``This is really rough work because the buckets are heavy,″ said Harue Tobari, 71. ``The only way to do it is for everyone to make jokes together.″

Cleanup workers also have been sucking the sludge up with pipes hooked up to a truck and spraying chemicals to disperse the slick.

Coast guard officials said oil from the 962,000-gallon slick, created by the sinking of a Russian tanker, washed ashore today in Tottori Prefecture, bringing the five the number of states hit by the spill.

Near the entrance of Wakasu Bay, which is ringed by nuclear power plants, eight coast guard ships and about 40 fishing vessels began putting up the boom to contain patches of oil spanning seven miles, coast guard official Hisao Nishiyama said.

Equipment at nuclear power plants, which use large amounts of seawater for cooling, could be damaged if the oil slick gets too close.

At one beach in Kyoto Prefecture, volunteers found the bodies of three oil-muddied waterbirds Thursday, prefectural official Kei Sasa said. Birds that are sullied with oil often are unable to float, and drown.

``What we are also afraid of is that more birds will die from organ damage if they preen the oil off their feathers with their beaks,″ Sasa said. ``There’s no way we can save them.″

The Russian tanker split in two on Jan. 2 about 90 miles off the coast. The front half drifted and ran aground Tuesday off the beach at Mikuni, 200 miles west of Tokyo.

Fishermen say the oil has ruined the coastal seaweed and shellfish. The effect on crab and fish in deeper waters is still uncertain. Tourism, another major source of livelihood for the region, also is likely to suffer.

Japan called on Russia to investigate the accident and prevent a recurrence. The message was delivered to the Russian government by Tokyo’s ambassador in Moscow, Takehiro Togo, on Thursday night.

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