Hunt On For Source Of New Radioactive Leak
The operators of the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant say it's likely that radiation detected in water pooling in the basement of a Unit 3 building came from the reactor's main vessel. This reactor has been the source of major concern since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan, and led to the current crisis at the power facility.
Friday marks the two-week anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 10,000 people, and led to the crisis at the nuclear plant.
The announcement of the water leak raised concerns that the reactor core may have been breached. Officials later insisted that they have found no evidence of an actual breach in the reactor. There are many pipes and connections leading from the main vessel to the turbine building that could be the source of leaking water.
The water found in the turbine building of Unit 3 showed extremely high levels of radiation, and also contained isotopes that are not ordinarily present in cooling water.
Since the accident began, there's been considerable speculation as to whether radiation leaks are coming from the reactors themselves or from spent fuel stored in pools that may have been damaged. This latest announcement is another indication that a leak is coming from the reactor itself. Highly radioactive water has also been found in the turbine buildings of Unit 1.
The news of the leak comes a day after three workers were exposed to high levels of radioactivity while laying electrical cable in the basement of Unit 3's turbine building. Two of the men were taken to a local hospital for treatment of possible radiation burns. All three men were then brought to Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences in the Tokyo area.
The men worked for Kandenko Co, a electrical engineering firm doing subcontracting work for Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO. They are reported to be in good condition, and are expected to be released next week.
In a statement Friday, TEPCO, which runs the plant, indicated that the workers had ignored high readings on their dosimeters, which measure the presence of radiation.
The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan also widened a voluntary evacuation area around the plant to a radius of about 18 miles from the nuclear plant. Since March 15, residents living within 12 miles have been urged to leave the area, and those living within the 18-mile range had been told to remain indoors.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says local governments are being told to call for voluntary evacuations 18 miles out. The government said that the main concern was not radiation exposure, but that services in the area had been severely disrupted by the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear crisis.
The U.S. government previously had told its citizens to stay 50 miles away from the plant.
Food And Water Concerns
Radiation leaks have contaminated some food and water around the plant. Tokyo residents were warned on Wednesday that tap water had tested high for radioactivity, and that they should not allow infants to drink the water.
That order was rescinded the next day when readings dropped. But water systems in a number of cities continue to test above the levels considered safe for small children.
Japan has restricted the sale and consumption of vegetables, fruit and milk produced around the plant. And the United States and other countries have banned the import of some food products from the affected area.
Damage To Reactor Buildings
Japan's Self-Defense Forces released a video of the damaged reactor buildings, shot from a military helicopter. The film shows extensive damage to many of the buildings.
Despite these problems, officials continue to insist they are making progress in getting control of the six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Work to revive the cooling equipment that lost power continues, officials say. External power has been restored to all six reactors. And the lights are coming back on in control rooms that have been dark and deserted for two weeks.
Technicians are also beginning to pump fresh water, instead of seawater, into Unit 1. TEPCO has been injecting seawater into some of the reactors to keep nuclear fuel from overheating, but there's concern that salt deposits from the seawater could make it more difficult to cool the fuel inside the reactors. The company plans to replace seawater with fresh water at Units 2 and 3, which have also suffered fuel damage.
Relief officials now say the confirmed death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has reached 10,000, with more than 17,000 people still missing. Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be homeless, and the number of evacuees will now increase, with the government's decision to expand the safety zone around the plant.
With reporting from NPR's Jon Hamilton and Greg Dixon in Tokyo. Material from The Associated Press was also used in this report.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.