Tokyo, March 25 (DPA) The containment vessel of a nuclear reactor struck by an earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan may have been damaged, the government’s nuclear safety commission said Friday.
“It’s quite possible” that the vessel of reactor number 3 at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima was damaged, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a commission spokesman.
The plant’s power was knocked out by the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami, leading to overheating of its six reactors, explosions, fires and releases of radioactive materials at the plant, 250 km northeast of Tokyo.
Radiation-contaminated water that three workers, who were working to restore cooling functions at reactor 3, were exposed to Thursday was 10,000 times the normal level, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, said Friday.
Those levels suggested the vessel might have been damaged and leaked radioactive materials, Nishiyama told a news conference.
High levels of radiation in water were also detected in the buildings of reactors 1 and 2.
The three workers’ radiation exposure was believed to have been at levels amounting to 173 to 180 millisieverts.
Two of the three workers were hospitalized Thursday and diagnosed as having sustained beta ray radiation burns to their legs caused by direct exposure, TEPCO said.
They were transferred Friday to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba prefecture.
Following the incident, the commission urged TEPCO to improve monitoring at the plant.
High levels of radiation, smoke, fires and explosions have continuously hampered workers trying to stabilize the plant.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference that the situation there “still does not warrant optimism”.
However, the plant’s workers are to get help from the US, which plans to transport large amounts of freshwater by warship early next week to cool the overheating reactors and spent-fuel pools at the plant, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said.
Washington had urged Tokyo to use freshwater instead of seawater because salt in seawater causes corrosion of equipment at the plant, Kitazawa said.
Two US warships are to load the freshwater at their base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and would then be towed by Japanese naval vessels to the port of Onahama in Fukushima prefecture.
The US and Japanese military are to anchor off the coast US Navy barges capable of carrying large amounts of water, and send water through pipelines to the plant.
TEPCO is also to use freshwater from a nearby dam. The plant operator started pumping freshwater into reactor 1 instead of seawater Friday afternoon.
The government asked residents living 20 to 30 km from the plant to voluntarily leave the area, suggesting a lengthy struggle with the crisis while the release of radioactive substances was expected to continue for some time.
About 10,000 residents were still in the zone as of Friday, NHK said.
Evacuations had been ordered within a 20-km radius of the plant, but those living in the farther zone had previously been told to stay indoors.
The government has no plan to expand the current evacuation zone, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.
Meanwhile, fears of radioactive contamination spread as tainted water and vegetables were reported in areas near the plant and even outside Fukushima Prefecture.
Authorities found radioactive caesium above the government limit in komatsuna, a leafy green vegetable, grown in Edogawa, Tokyo, 220 km southwest of the plant.
Officials in Tochigi prefecture said they had detected 108 becquerels of radioactive iodine in tap water collected Thursday in Utsunomiya, 160 km southwest of the plant. The prefecture advised parents that infants should not be given tap water to drink.
The central government said the levels do not pose an immediate risk to human health.
The level of radioactive iodine in Utsunomiya, however, fell below the recommended maximum for infants Friday.
“The radiation being detected does not present a public health risk,” Gregory Hartl, a WHO (The World Health Organization) spokesman in Geneva, said referring to the radiation found in areas outside the exclusion zone.
The official toll from the earthquake and tsunami had passed 10,000, the National Police Agency said, recording 10,035 confirmed deaths and 17,443 people missing.