Staff exposed to 10,000 times more radiation than normal
CONCERNS over the extent of radioactive contamination in Japan deepened yesterday, after it emerged that three workers treated in hospital this week were exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than normal.
The news raised fears that the steel and concrete shield around one of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant could be leaking.
Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, made clear that the work to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear power plant remained on a knife-edge. "The situation today at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant," he said in an evening address to the nation.
Japanese officials said further investigations were needed to determine how the three men replacing a cable in the No 3 reactor were sloshing about in water containing radioactive iodine, caesium and cobalt at 10,000 times the normal level.
"At present, our monitoring data suggest the reactor retains certain containment functions, but there is a good chance that the reactor has been damaged," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's nuclear agency.
The possibility of damage to the reactor itself raised fresh concerns and caused some confusion yesterday, although an official later clarified that a leak in the plumbing or the vents, was most likely to blame for the elevated radiation levels.
Some 700 engineers, firemen and technicians continue to work to stabilise the six reactors at the plant that was badly damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan on March 11.
Two of the reactors are regarded as safe in what is called a "cold shutdown", but four remain volatile, periodically emitting steam and smoke.
The three injured workers bring to 17 the total number of workers exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation at the plant. That is the annual exposure level at which any increase in cancer risk is considered to be evident.
Meanwhile, China announ- ced it was joining a growing list of countries banning dairy and aquatic products, vegetables and fruit from five Japanese prefectures.
In Tokyo, supermarket shelves remained stripped of bottled water yesterday, even though radiation levels had returned to within safe limits and the city's governor was shown on television drinking tap water at a municipal purification plant.
Two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami struck, the official death toll passed 10,000 yesterday, with a further 17,500 people still listed as missing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)