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Toxic plutonium seeping from Japan’s nuclear plant

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.

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