Meltdown confirmed amid radioactive water leak alert
Published 29/03/2011 | 05:00
HIGHLY radioactive water has been discovered leaking from Japan's stricken nuclear plant.
And, yesterday, officials admitted for the first time that there had been a partial meltdown inside the reactor.
The water seeping into a trench outside the number two reactor at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-east Japan has a radiation level of more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour -- 100,000 times the normal level.
The radiation level found outside it can cause temporary sickness and far exceeds the 100 millisieverts per hour which is generally regarded as the lowest amount at which cancer risks are apparent.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) said plutonium was also detected in soil from the plant, although it believed it was below harmful levels and similar to levels found in Japan after nuclear tests in China or North Korea.
Airborne nuclear contamination, meanwhile, has spread "well beyond" the 19-mile exclusion zone, according to France's Nuclear Safety Authority.
Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the authority, added that "it would not at all be surprising to find, here and there, contamination well beyond a radius of 100km".
Officials at Tepco are attempting to locate the source of the water leak, which is near the turbine building of the number two reactor and around 180ft from the sea.
Hiro Hasegawa, a spokesman for Tepco, said: "The trench is located outside the building and the water contains radioactive materials."
"There is normally no water found in this area so it is difficult to compare this to normal levels. But we do not believe it is leaking into the ocean."
It is the latest in a series of setbacks at Fukushima Daiichi, where staff have been working to restore crucial cooling functions following the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.
Officials were forced to evacuate the turbine building of the number two reactor when puddles of water inside were found to give off 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity.
A temporary meltdown inside the core of the reactor was possibly the cause of the building's contaminated water, according to Yukio Edano, the chief government spokesman.
"The radiation seems to have come from the fuel rods that were partially melted down and came into contact with the water used to cool the reactor," he said.
Unease has been growing in Japan after conflicting reports, alleged safety blunders and miscalculated figures. Two Fukushima workers suffered burns last week after stepping in toxic water but have since been released from hospital.
Speculation was mounting over the extent of radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean after tests found that nearby seawater was contaminated. Experts said any radiation in the ocean would swiftly dissipate.
There were calls for an extension of the evacuation zone after Greenpeace tests in Iitate village, 25 miles from the nuclear plant, showed radiation levels of up to 10 microsieverts per hour. One microsievert is one thousandth of a millisievert.
A Greenpeace spokesperson said: "It is not safe for people to remain in Iitate." (© Daily Telegraph, London)