Monday, March 28, 2011

Continuous leak at Japanese plant

SINGAPORE, March 28, 2011

The radiation crisis at the quake-and-tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi atomic energy plant in Japan deepened on Sunday, prompting a protest march in Tokyo by several hundred activists opposed to the generation of electricity by nuclear means.

Japan\'s nuclear safety regulators expressed the view that "there is a continuous leakage" of radioactive substances.

And, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the plant and is responsible for managing the crisis, indicated that "there is a breach in the reactor" at Unit 2.

Japan\'s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, in a televised press conference in Tokyo, "a certain amount of radioactive materials has melted" at Unit 2 in the multi-reactor plant.

"I believe that fuel rods inside the reactor [at Unit 2] were exposed above water for some time," causing a high degree of radioactivity at the site, said Mr. Edano, without referring to the alarming figure that the plant officials had first put out.

By nightfall on Sunday, TEPCO withdrew its earlier estimate that extreme level of radiation, as detected in stagnant water inside the turbine room of Unit 2, was caused by radioactive substances which exceeded their normal density at the site by 10-million times.

But such a dangerous degree of radiation was said to have been fully contained within the reactor site itself. However, the workers engaged in a variety of tasks aimed at bringing the plant under control were promptly withdrawn.

Mr. Edano later said "it would take some time" for these workers to return to the plant site.

At the same time, it was "a welcome sign" that the workers, who were hospitalised for exposure to intense radiation at Unit 3, would now be discharged soon, he said.

Until Sunday, officials were describing the situation at Unit 3, designed for using mixed fuel, as very "precarious" and "unpredictable" because of the extensive damage caused there by the March 11 temblor and tsunami.

Following the unabated alarm since then about the radioactive pollution of air, water, food and dairy produce, and seawater, the government had now advised a careful analysis of the soil at the power plant premises.

The investigation would focus on the possibility of plutonium leakage as well, said Mr. Edano.

The concerns, articulated by the Tokyo protesters, were less specific but no less intense.

One protester said he was always opposed to nuclear power but he could raise his voice louder now.

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