Radioactive water at 5 million times limit found at Japan plant
Reuters: Mayumi Negishi & Yoko Nishikawa - April 5, 2011
TOKYO (Reuters) - The operator of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant said on Tuesday it had found water with 5 million times the legal limit of radioactivity as it struggles for a fourth week to contain the world's biggest nuclear disaster in quarter of a century.
Underlining the concern over spreading radiation, the government said it was considering imposing radioactivity restrictions on seafood for the first time in the crisis after contaminated fish were found in seas well south of the damaged nuclear reactors.
The plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) offered token "condolence" money to those affected in the Fukushima region where the plant is based, the local mayors who came to Tokyo to meet Prime Minister Naoto Kan made clear they expected far more help.
"We have borne the risks, co-existed and flourished with TEPCO for more than 40 years, and all these years, we have fully trusted the myth that nuclear plants are absolutely safe," said Katsuya Endo, the mayor of Tomioka town.
He was one of eight Fukushima prefecture mayors who went to Kan to demand compensation and support for employment, housing and education for the tens of thousands of people evacuated as a result of the radiation crisis.
In desperation, engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have turned to what are little more than home remedies to stem the flow of contaminated water. On Tuesday, they used "liquid glass" in the hope of plugging cracks in a leaking concrete pit.
"We tried pouring sawdust, newspaper and concrete mixtures into the side of the pit (leading to tunnels outside reactor No.2), but the mixture does not seem to be entering the cracks," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).
"We also still do not know how the highly contaminated water is seeping out of reactor No.2," said Nishiyama.
TEPCO said it suspected that a stone layer beneath the trench feeding into the pit at reactor No. 2 might be the source of the contaminated water, but added they were still investigating the exact causes and were prepared for the possibility that there were other sources of radioactive water.
Engineers also plan to build two giant polyester "silt curtains" in the sea to block the spread of more contamination from the plant.
Workers are still struggling to restart cooling pumps -- which recycle the water -- in four reactors damaged by last month's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.
Until those are fixed, they must pump in water from outside to prevent overheating and meltdowns. In the process, that creates more contaminated water that has to be pumped out and stored somewhere else or released into the sea.
There is a total of 60,000 tons of highly contaminated water in the plant after workers frantically poured in seawater when fuel rods experienced partial meltdown after the tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11.
TEPCO on Monday had to start releasing 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive seawater after it ran out of storage capacity for more highly contaminated water. The release will continue until Friday.
FIVE MILLION TIMES LEGAL LIMIT
Radioactive iodine of up to 4,800 times the legal limit has been recorded in the sea near the plant. Cesium was found at levels above safety limits in tiny "kounago" fish in waters Ibaraki Prefecture, south of Fukushima, local media reported.
Iodine-131 in the water near the sluice gate of reactor No. 2 hit a high on April 2 of 7.5 million times the legal limit. The water, which was not released into the ocean, fell to 5 million times the legal limit on Monday.
TEPCO said it had started paying token "condolence money" to local governments to aid people evacuated from around its stricken plant or affected by the radiation crisis.
It faces a huge bill for the damage caused by its crippled reactors, but
said it must first assess the extent of damage before paying actual compensation.
"We are still in discussion as to what extent we will pay on our own and to what extent we will have assistance from the government," TEPCO executive vice-president Takashi Fujimotohe told a news conference.
TEPCO offered just 20 million yen ($238,000) in condolence money each to towns near the reactors whose residents were forced to evacuate. A second TEPCO official said they offered that sum to 10 towns but one refused to take the money.
FISH PRICES TUMBLE
Fishermen from neighboring Ibaraki prefecture saw prices for flounder and sea bream tumble as buyers shunned their catch.
"Unless problems at the plant end soon, fishermen won't be able to go on living without compensation. We want compensation from TEPCO, the government and the prefecture," said Hikaru Sugiyama a fishing cooperative official in Ibaraki.
The company's shares plunged to a record low of 363 yen on Tuesday on uncertainty over the nuclear crisis, and are now over 80 percent of their value before the quake struck.
The quake and tsunami have left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, thousands homeless and Japan's northeast coast a wreck.
The world's costliest natural disaster has caused power blackouts and cuts to supply chains, threatening Japan's economic growth and the operations of global firms from semiconductor makers to shipbuilders.
Fujimoto said TEPCO wants to avoid having to impose rolling power blackouts in summer, when demand surges due to heavy use of air-conditioning. Analysts say blackouts could cause the biggest economic damage to Japan.($1 = 84.040 Japanese Yen)
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Leika Kihara, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Chikako Mogi in Tokyo and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit.; Writing by Paul Eckert and Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
Japan's ocean radiation hits 7.5 million times legal limit
High readings in fish prompt the government to establish a maximum level for safe consumption.
Los Angeles Times: Kenji Hall & Julie Makinen - April 5, 2011
Reporting from Tokyo— The operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish.
The reading of iodine-131 was recorded Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Another sample taken Monday found the level to be 5 million times the legal limit. The Monday samples also were found to contain radioactive cesium at 1.1 million times the legal limit.
The exact source of the radiation was not immediately clear, though Tepco has said that highly contaminated water has been leaking from a pit near the No. 2 reactor. The utility initially believed that the leak was coming from a crack, but several attempts to seal the crack failed.
On Tuesday the company said the leak instead might be coming from a faulty joint where the pit meets a duct, allowing radioactive water to seep into a layer of gravel underneath. The utility said it would inject "liquid glass" into gravel in an effort to stop further leakage.
Meanwhile, Tepco continued releasing what it described as water contaminated with low levels of radiation into the sea to make room in on-site storage tanks for more highly contaminated water. In all, the company said it planned to release 11,500 tons of the water, but by Tuesday morning it had released less than 25% of that amount.
Although the government authorized the release of the 11,500 tons and has said that any radiation would be quickly diluted and dispersed in the ocean, fish with high readings of iodine are being found.
On Monday, officials detected more than 4,000 bequerels of iodine-131 per kilogram in a type of fish called a sand lance caught less than three miles offshore of the town of Kita-Ibaraki. The young fish also contained 447 bequerels of cesium-137, which is considered more problematic than iodine-131 because it has a much longer half-life.
On Tuesday chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said the government was imposing a standard of 2,000 bequerels of iodine per kilogram of fish, the same level it allows in vegetables. Previously, the government did not have a specific level for fish. Another haul of sand lance with 526 bequerels of cesium was detected Tuesday, in excess of the standard of 500 bequerels per kilogram.
Fishing of sand lances has been suspended. Local fishermen called on Tepco to halt the release of radioactive water into the sea and demanded that the company compensate them for their losses.
Fishing has been banned near the plant, and the vast majority of fishing activity in the region has been halted because of damage to boats and ports by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake. Still, some fishermen are out making catches, only to find few buyers because of fears about radiation.
It was unclear what Tepco might offer the fishermen, but the company did say Tuesday that it had offered "condolence payments" totaling 180 million yen ($2 million) to local residents who had to evacuate their homes because of radiation from the Fukushima plant. One town, however, refused the payment.
The company has yet to decide how it will compensate residents near the plant for damages, though financial analysts say the claims could be in the tens of billions of dollars. Tepco's executive vice president Takashi Fujimoto said the company's decision on damages hinges on how much of the burden the government will share.
Edano urged the company to accelerate its decisions on compensation.
For now the company has offered to give 20 million yen ($240,000) to each of 10 villages, towns and cities within 12 miles of the plant, Fujimoto said.
"We hope they will find it of some use for now," he said.
Namie, a town of 20,600 located about 6 miles north of the plant, refused to take the money. Town official Kosei Negishi said that he and other government officials were working out of a makeshift office in Nihonmatsu city, elsewhere in Fukushima prefecture, and that they faced more pressing issues.
"The coastal areas of Namie were hit hard by the earthquake and the tsunami but because of the radiation and the evacuation order we haven't had a chance to conduct a search for the 200 people who are missing," said Negishi. "Why would we use our resources to hand out less than 1,000 yen ($12) to every resident?"
Tokyo Electric Power's Fujimoto acknowledged that there was a "gap" in the views of company and Namie officials.
Tepco's shares dropped to an all-time low Tuesday, falling by the maximum daily trading limit -- about 18% -- to 362 yen, below the previous record low of 393 yen reached in December 1951. The company's share price has lost 80% of its value -- nearly 1.1 trillion yen -- since the quake and tsunami, according to the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
"We take the stock price decline very seriously," Fujimoto told reporters.
Fujimoto said the company's annual earnings report, which was originally scheduled for April 28, would be postponed, but he declined to give any other details.
Plant radiation monitor says levels immeasurable
NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation: April 5, 2011
A radiation monitor at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says workers there are exposed to immeasurable levels of radiation.
The monitor told NHK that no one can enter the plant's No. 1 through 3 reactor buildings because radiation levels are so high that monitoring devices have been rendered useless. He said even levels outside the buildings exceed 100 millisieverts in some places.
Pools and streams of water contaminated by high-level radiation are being found throughout the facility.
The monitor said he takes measurements as soon as he finds water, because he can't determine whether it's contaminated just by looking at it. He said he's very worried about the safety of workers there.
Contaminated water and efforts to remove it have been hampering much-needed work to cool the reactors.
The monitor expressed frustration, likening the situation to looking up
a mountain that one has to climb, without having taken a step up.