Japan warns more radioactive emissions likely

 

JAPAN’S GOVERNMENT claimed some success over the weekend in its battle to prevent meltdown at a crippled nuclear power plant but amid reports of spreading contamination it warned that the release of more radioactive material is likely.

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which operates the plant, said it had cooled dangerously overheating spent-fuel pools in reactors five and six, and attached power lines to reactors one and two, the first step in restarting cooling pumps. Work on reactor three was suspended yesterday, however, after explosive pressure built up inside.

Engineers were considering last night whether to vent steam inside the container vessel surrounding the reactor, possibly releasing krypton and other radioactive materials. Officials have reported small amounts of radioactive contamination in vegetables, milk and water near the plant and in surrounding prefectures.

Workers spent another day yesterday hosing the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi complex with tons of water, a mission declared successful by government spokesman Yukio Edano, who announced that it would be scrapped after the crisis ends. But experts say it is much too early to declare the fight to bring the plant under control over.

“I hope that safety [and] stability will be recovered as soon as possible. But I still don’t think it is time to say that I think they are going in a good direction or not,” said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano, after a two-day visit to Japan.

Over the weekend, Tepco’s overwhelmed boss, Akio Komiri, burst into tears in front of reporters after a press conference in which the company reported raising the radioactivity limit for some workers at the plant from 100 millisieverts to 150 millisieverts. The average exposure for US nuclear plant workers is 50 millisieverts per year.

Mr Edano said last week that radiation around the plant was high enough to affect human health. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has raised its alert level in the crisis to five, meaning radiation deaths are likely.

The decision put the crisis on a par with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and below the world’s worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986.

The government was to make a decision yesterday on whether to limit the sale and consumption of food produced in the area around the Fukushima complex. Some reports say the sale of milk from the prefecture has already been banned.

Efforts to recover from the nation’s most powerful earthquake and tsunami continue, especially in the worst hit northeast, where about 400,000 people are still sheltering in gyms and schools. Hot food, water and fuel are in short supply and phone networks are still down in many areas, leaving thousands unable to contact missing loved ones.

Officials warned that previous estimates of the death toll from the disaster are probably too low. Police say 15,000 people could have died in Miyagi prefecture alone, mainly from the huge tsunami that struck the coast after the quake on March 11th. More than 8,000 people have been confirmed dead so far and another 12,000 are missing.