Japan reactor leaks at faster rate than Chernobyl


THE RELEASE of two types of radioactive particles in the first three-four days of Japan’s nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 per cent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days, an Austrian expert has said.

The calculations published by Austria’s Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics may add to growing concern in Japan and elsewhere over the contamination of food products in areas near the reactor site.

Spreading nuclear contamination has reached Tokyo’s water supply, prompting the government to advise against giving tap water to babies. The warning sparked a run on bottled water in the shops and sent thousands of worried parents to the website of the capital’s bureau of waterworks, briefly crashing the site.

Tokyo’s move follows a series of indefinite bans on over a dozen food items produced in and around Fukushima, home to a nuclear plant that has been leaking radiation for nearly two weeks. Shipments of milk, spinach, cabbages, parsley and other vegetables have been stopped.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Yukio Edano, called the contaminated water “unfortunate” and said rain yesterday meant the radiation could have “an impact on many areas”.

However he said the warning on water was a precaution. “Even if consumed several times, it would have no harmful effects on human health, even in the future.”

Several radiation experts have also played down the impact of the radiation and its impact on the country’s food supply. “Perhaps if you were drinking 20 litres a day, in which case you’d die of water intoxication, it could be a problem,” said Robert Gale, a specialist in nuclear accidents.

Another radiation expert said this week that life one kilometre outside the restricted area surrounding a stricken Japanese nuclear plant leaking radiation was as safe as London.

“The people we should worry about . . . are those working at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” said Prof Shunichi Yamashita, who advises the Fukushima government on radiation exposure. “Otherwise we do not have to worry about exposure.”

Some experts say public concern about the Fukushima crisis is distracting attention from the effort to help about half a million people left homeless by the huge March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

The disaster killed 9,400 people and another 14,700 are missing. Hundreds of thousands of homes are still without water or electricity.

The radiation warnings are jangling nerves in a country still suffering aftershocks and struggling to recover from its worst disaster since the second World War. A series of claims this week that the radiation levels are safe has angered many observers.

“Radiation in Tokyo is not something I would panic about, but it is certainly not the kind of radiation you want to receive for the whole year,” said Satoko Norimatsu, who heads the Vancouver-based Peace Philosophy Centre.

Japan’s health ministry has already advised parents in Fukushima prefecture against using tap water to make baby formula. Yesterday’s new warning in the capital follows the discovery of over twice the legal levels of radioactive iodine in a water-treatment plant.

Radioactivity that is higher than normal has also been detected in sea water around the damaged plant. The government says there are no plans yet for a seafood ban.