(Peter Alford and Rick Wallace, Tokyo) – HIGHLY irradiated water that injured two emergency service workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant probably leaked from the No 3 reactor core, Japan’s nuclear safety regulator says. It was likely the No 3 reactor’s containment vessel had been breached and the water into which three workers stepped on Thursday came from the core, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s Hidehiko Nishiyama said yesterday.
It was possible “similar things could have happened” with No 1 and No 2 reactor containment vessels, Mr Nishiyama said, but information was inconclusive.
The threat of water leakages directly from reactor cores raises the difficulty and risk for workers in cooling the damaged plant so that more safety work can begin.
Three men stepped into the water in the basement of the No 3 reactor while replacing cables. Two were taken to hospital with skin lesions and all three had further tests yesterday.
The water’s radiation level was 10,000 times the level experienced with cooling water in a normally operating reactor. NISA said yesterday it had ordered plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co to improve its safety measures.
The agency found TEPCO had not properly monitored water radioactivity in the No 3 unit, nor provided the workers adequate protective gear, and did not evacuate the area immediately after Thursday morning’s accident.
The No 3 building remained evacuated yesterday and Mr Nishiyama said he did not know when and how work could resume on reattaching permanent power to the reactor’s cooling system.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano called upon Fukushima prefecture residents living outside the 20km exclusion zone around the plant but within a 30km radius to voluntarily evacuate.
TEPCO officials braced the Japanese public for blackouts rolling into the northern summer, dousing earlier hopes the blackouts on Honshu, the main island, would end by April 30.
A fortnight after the March 11 triple disaster – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency – Prime Minister Naoto Kan was due to address the nation last night. By midday yesterday, the likely death toll exceeded 27,450. Police said 10,035 people were confirmed dead and 17,443 were missing, presumed dead.
Contamination of water in some treatment plants in areas surrounding the stricken power station remained above the safe limit for infants of 100 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive iodine.
In Tokyo, where elevated iodine 131 readings earlier in the week sparked panic buying of bottled water, levels remained safe.
But plants supplying Chiba, a major residential area east of Tokyo, posted readings on Wednesday of up to 220 becquerels of iodine 131, well above the infant limit. The advice for infants not to drink the water remained.
Shipments of vegetables including spinach, cabbage, broccoli, radish and parsley, and milk from Fukushima and three surrounding prefectures (Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma), remain suspended.
The World Health Organisation said 17 countries and the European Union had stepped up monitoring of Japanese imports.
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