China has found what it termed 50 "hazardous sources of radiation" because of last week's earthquake, a senior official said yesterday, although he insisted the situation was under control.
But Chinese Vice Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing (吳曉青) said there had been no accidental releases of radiation.
“Thirty-five of the radiation sources have been recovered, and the location of another 15 has been confirmed, but they have not yet been recovered,” Wu told a news conference in Beijing.
“Three are buried in rubble and another 12 are in dangerous buildings, which staff cannot go into,” he added. “At present, tests from the scene show that there has yet to be an accidental release of radiation.”
The disaster area is home to China’s chief nuclear weapons research lab in Mianyang, as well as several secretive atomic sites, but no nuclear power stations.
Eleven days after the 7.9-magnitude quake shook the province of Sichuan, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, relief workers and ordinary residents are now focused on reconstruction.
The known death toll from the quake already exceeds 55,000, but more bodies are expected to be found as the debris from the dozens of flattened cities, towns and villages is cleared.
A top provincial official said China would need to rebuild whole towns and villages from scratch to rehouse the millions displaced by the quake, a task which could take three years.
Some towns in the earthquake zone in the southwest of the country would need to be relocated altogether because the terrain is not safe, officials have said.
The rainy season, due within weeks, is adding urgency to their work. The government’s main concern is that aftershocks and heavy rain could cause secondary disasters such as flashfloods and landslides.
“The rebuilding work faces a lot of difficulty in the region, where the mountains have been shaken loose in the earthquake and there have been more than 7,000 aftershocks,” Sichuan Vice Governor Li Chengyun (李成雲) told a news conference in Beijing.
Relief workers are also concerned that poor hygiene could cause disease outbreaks. Li said this was a “peak period for outbreaks of diseases,” describing the situation as very grim.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Yingxiu, the epicenter of the quake, today, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
The foreign ministry said it was not immediately clear which Chinese leader would accompany Ban to the disaster area.