Higher Levels of Radiation at Japan Nuclear Reactor Plant

Japan’s government urges residents within 18 miles of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant to leave their homes, as new information suggests that the core of reactor No. 3 may have been breached.

Although people living within 12 miles of the plant were evacuated early in the crisis, those between 12 and 18 miles had been told it was safe to remain as long as they stayed indoors. Authorities have suggested they might expand the mandatory evacuation zone.

The sharply elevated radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex on Sunday raised the possibility of spreading contamination and forced an evacuation of a part of one of the buildings at the damaged plant.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that water seeping out of the crippled No. 2 reactor building into the adjacent turbine building contained levels of radioactive iodine 134 that were about 10 million times the level normally found in water used inside nuclear power plants.The higher levels may suggest a leak from the reactor’s fuel rods — from either the suppression chamber under the rods or various piping — or even a breach in the pressure vessel that houses the rods, the Japanese nuclear regulator said.Tests also found increased levels of 2.3 million becquerels of radioactive cesium, a substance with a longer half-life, the agency said.

“Radiation levels are increasing and measures need to be taken,” he said, but added that he did not think there was need to worry about high levels of radiation immediately escaping the plant.

The Japanese government’s top spokesman, Yukio Edano, told an afternoon press briefing Sunday that it appeared the radioactive puddles had developed when the No. 2 unit’s fuel rods were exposed to air, but that “we don’t at this time believe they are melting. We’re confident that we are able to keep them cool.”

All Sunday, the government and company officials fielded questions from the Japanese media about whether plutonium might have escaped from one of the damaged facilities. Mr. Edano said the area around the reactors was being tested for plutonium, but “this is not an easy process.” He said that if the presence of plutonium was confirmed, “we will take measures depending on the situation.”

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