Japan: Fukushima Nuclear Plant Leaks Radiation into Groundwater

Japan – Radiation exceeding government safety limits has seeped into groundwater under a tsunami-crippled Japanese nuclear plant, according to the operator, but has not affected drinking supplies.

The leak announced late Thursday could pose a long-term problem, however, and at the very least it is a concerning indicator of how far Tokyo Electric Power Co. is from bringing its plant under control. Workers have been battling to stabilize dangerously overheating reactors after cooling systems were knocked out in the March 11 tsunami.

TEPCO has increasingly asked for international help in its uphill battle, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that were to arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

The groundwater contamination — 10,000 times higher than the government standard for the plant — is the latest setback at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, where leaks have already contaminated food and hindered workers’ ability to bring the plant under control. Iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, was found nearly 50 feet (15 meters) below one of the reactors, according to TEPCO spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo.

While the contamination does not appear to have caused an immediate problem, there are two ways it could eventually affect drinking water if concentrations were high enough. One is if it were to seep into wells in the area. For now, a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant has been cleared, though residents of the area are growing increasingly frustrated with evacuation orders and have been sneaking back to check on their homes.

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