Plutonium has been detected at six locations in Fukushima Prefecture, including Iitate village around 45 km northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which suffered three reactor meltdowns after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, science ministry officials said.
It is the first time the government has confirmed the spread of plutonium outside Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken plant. The plutonium turned up in soil samples.
The detected amounts of plutonium were small and posed no danger to health, the officials said.
On a tract of government land along the Savannah River in South Carolina, an army of workers is building one of the nation’s most ambitious nuclear enterprises in decades: a plant that aims to safeguard at least 43 tons of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it into fuel for commercial power reactors.Multimedia Interactive FeatureJapan Earthquake and Tsunami MultimediaRelatedOfficial Defends Japan’s Handling of Crises, Saying They Were Unprecedented April 11, 2011Enlarge This ImageShaw Areva Mox ServicesThe sprawling plant, which is being built just south of Aiken, S.C., is intended to be bigger than eight football fields, and its construction currently employs nearly 2,000 workers.The project grew out of talks with the Russians to shrink nuclear arsenals after the cold war. The plant at the Savannah River Site, once devoted to making plutonium for weapons, would now turn America’s lethal surplus to peaceful ends. Blended with uranium, the usual reactor fuel, the plutonium would be transformed into a new fuel called mixed oxide, or mox.“We are literally turning swords into plowshares,” one of the project’s biggest boosters, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week.But 11 years after the government awarded a construction contract, the cost of the project has soared to nearly $5 billion. The vast concrete and steel structure is a half-finished hulk, and the government has yet to find a single customer, despite offers of lucrative subsidies.Now, the nuclear crisis in Japan has intensified a long-running conflict over the project’s rationale.
France and the United States are to help Japan in its battle to contain radiation from a crippled nuclear complex where plutonium finds have raised public alarm over the world’s worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
The high-stakes operation at the Fukushima plant has added to Japan’s unprecedented humanitarian disaster with 27,500 people dead or missing from a March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chairs the G20 and G8 blocs of nations, plans to visit Tokyo on Thursday. He will be the first foreign leader in Japan since the disaster.
In further support, France flew in two experts from its state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its CEA nuclear research body to assist Japan’s heavily-criticized plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).
A global leader in the industry, France produces about 75 percent of its power from reactors so it has a strong interest in helping Japan get through the Fukushima disaster.
Japan’s government admitted Tuesday that its safeguards were insufficient to protect a nuclear plant against the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the facility and caused it to spew radiation, and it vowed to overhaul safety standards.
The struggle to contain radiation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex has unfolded with near-constant missteps — the latest including two workers drenched with radioactive water despite wearing supposedly waterproof suits.
The March 11 tsunami that slammed into Japan’s northeast, wiping out towns and killing thousands of people, knocked out power and backup systems at the coastal nuclear power plant.
More than 11,000 bodies have been recovered, but officials say the final death toll is expected to exceed 18,000. Hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless, their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Damage could amount to $310 billion — the most expensive natural disaster on record.
Japan said Tuesday it was on "maximum alert" over a crippled nuclear plant where radioactive water has halted repair work and plutonium has been found in the soil.
The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeast coast and left about 28,000 dead or missing also knocked out reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, which has leaked radiation into the air and sea.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan conceded the situation at the coastal atomic power station remained "unpredictable" and pledged his government would "tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert".
In a stop-gap measure to contain the crisis at the plant, crews have poured thousands of tons of water onto reactors where fuel rods are thought to have partially melted, and topped up pools for spent fuel rods.
Plutonium found in soil at the Fukushima nuclear complex heightened alarm on Tuesday over Japan’s battle to contain the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years, while opposition MPs attacked the prime minister for his handling of the disaster.
Some opposition lawmakers lambasted Naoto Kan in parliament for not extending an evacuation zone around the plant. Kan said he was seeking advice on widening the area, which would force 130,000 people to move in addition to 70,000 already displaced.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in five places at the facility, which was crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say.
They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix.
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean a breach in the reactor’s containment mechanism.
Highly toxic plutonium is seeping from the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan’s tsunami disaster zone into the soil outside, officials said Tuesday, heightening concerns about the expanding spread of radiation.
Plutonium was detected at several spots outside the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant — the first confirmed presence of the dangerously radioactive substance, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.
There are strong indications some of the radioactivity is coming from damaged nuclear fuel rods, a worrying development in the race to bring the power plant under control, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Tuesday.
"The situation is very grave," Edano told reporters. "We are doing our utmost efforts to contain the damage."
Officials said the traces of plutonium posed no immediate threat to public health. But the latest finding appeared to feed government frustration with TEPCO, which has failed to stem the crisis more than two weeks after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant.
The failure to keep radioactive substances from seeping out of the facility was "deplorable," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
The government is considering temporarily nationalizing the troubled nuclear plant operator, Japan’s top-selling daily Yomiuri said Tuesday, quoting unnamed government sources.
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.”