Plutonium found in soil near Fukushima plant
Plutonium has been found in low quantities in the soil around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant as public dissatisfaction with officials continues to percolate.
(Page 2 of 3)
But Japan's own nuclear safety agency was concerned at the plutonium samples, whose levels of radioactive decay ranged from 0.18 to 0.54 becquerels per kg.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"While it's not the level harmful to human health, I am not optimistic. This means the containment mechanism is being breached so I think the situation is worrisome," agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama was quoted as saying by Jiji news agency.
Workers at Fukushima are resigned to a struggle of weeks or months to re-start cooling systems vital to control the reactors and avert disaster. Their conditions are extremely dangerous, earning them sympathy and admiration round the world.
On Monday, highly contaminated water was found in concrete tunnels extending beyond one reactor, while at the weekend radiation hit 100,000 times over normal in water inside another.
That poses a major dilemma for TEPCO which wants to douse the reactors to cool them, but not worsen the radiation spread.
Fires, blasts, smoke and steam have posed other hazards.
Japan says a partial meltdown of fuel rods inside reactor No. 2 has contributed to the radiation levels.
The crisis, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, has contaminated vegetables and milk from the area, as well as the surrounding sea. U.S. experts said groundwater, reservoirs and the sea all faced "significant contamination."
With towns on the northeast coast reduced to apocalyptic landscapes of mud and debris, more than a quarter of a million people are homeless. The event may be the world's costliest natural disaster, with estimates of damage topping $300 billion.
The environmental group Greenpeace said its experts had confirmed dangerous radiation of up to 10 microsieverts per hour in Iitate village, 40 km (25 miles) northwest of the plant.
It called for the extension of a 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone. "It is clearly not safe for people to remain in Iitate, especially children and pregnant women," Greenpeace said, urging Japan to "stop choosing politics over science".
In most countries the maximum permissible annual dose for radiation workers is 50 millisieverts, or 50,000 microsieverts, according to the World Nuclear Association Industry body.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from a 20-km (12 mile) radius around the plant. Those within a further 10-km radius have been told by the government to stay indoors or, better still, leave too.
Beyond the evacuation zone, traces of radiation have been found in tap water in Tokyo and as far away as Iceland.