Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Radiation in Japan seawater, soil may be spreading


Workers at Japan’s damaged nuclear power plant raced to pump out contaminated water suspected of sending radioactivity levels soaring as officials warned yesterday that radiation seeping from the complex was spreading to seawater and soil.

The coastal power plant, located 220km northeast of Tokyo, has been leaking radiation since the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami engulfed the complex. The wave knocked out power to the system that cools the dangerously hot nuclear fuel rods.

The frantic effort to get temperatures down and avert a widening disaster has been slowed and complicated by fires, explosions, leaks and dangerous spikes in radiation. Two workers were burned after wading into highly radioactive water, officials said.

Yesterday, workers resumed the laborious yet urgent task of pumping out the hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water inside several buildings at the six-unit plant. The water must be removed and safely stored before work can continue to power up the plant’s regular cooling system, nuclear safety officials said.

Contaminated water inside Unit 2 has tested at radiation levels that were about 100,000 times normal amounts, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said.

Workers also discovered radioactive water in the deep trenches outside three units, with the airborne radiation levels outside Unit 2 exceeding 1,000 millisieverts per hour — more than four times the amount that the government considers safe for workers, TEPCO said yesterday.

The five workers in the area at the time were not hurt, spokesman Takashi Kurita said.

As officials scrambled to determine the source of the radioactive water, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the contamination in Unit 2 appeared to be due to a partial meltdown of the reactor core.

However, pressure inside the containers holding the reactors was stable, indicating any meltdown was only partial, spokesman Kaoru Yoshida said, suggesting that the core remains largely intact.

New readings show contamination in the ocean has spread about 1.6km farther north of the nuclear site than before.

Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered just offshore from Unit 5 and Unit 6 at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.

Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Safety Commission, said yesterday its members — government-appointed experts who monitor the atomic industry — believe the radioactive water came from the containment vessel. It did not clearly state whether the primary containment vessel, which protects the core, had been breached.

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