Radiation spikes in seawater off stricken Japan plant

TOKYO, (Reuters) – Radiation levels have soared in  seawater near Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,  officials said today, as engineers struggled to stabilise  the power station two weeks after it was hit by a massive  earthquake and tsunami.
Tests on Friday showed iodine 131 levels in seawater 30 km  (19 miles) from the coastal nuclear complex had spiked 1,250  times higher than normal, but it was not considered a threat to  marine life or food safety, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety  Agency said.
“Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it  will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and  seaweed,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior agency official.
Despite that reassurance, the disclosure may well heighten  international concern over Japanese seafood exports. Several  countries have already banned milk and produce from areas around  the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while others have been monitoring  Japanese seafood.
The prolonged efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at  the plant have also intensified concern around the world about  nuclear power. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was  time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.
Engineers were trying to pump radioactive water out of the  power plant 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, after it was  found in buildings housing three of the six reactors. On  Thursday, three workers sustained burns at reactor No. 3 after  being exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than  usually found in a reactor.
The crisis at the nuclear plant has overshadowed a big  relief and recovery effort from the magnitude 9.0 quake and the  huge tsunami it triggered on March 11 that left more than 27,500  people dead or missing in northeast Japan.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said it was  using fresh water instead of seawater to cool down at least some  of the reactors after concern arose that salt deposits might  hamper the cooling process.
Two of the plant’s reactors are now seen as safe but the  other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke.  However, the nuclear safety agency said today that  temperature and pressure in all reactors had stabilised.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Friday the situation at  Fukushima was “nowhere near” being resolved. His chief cabinet  secretary said the following day that at least it was not  deteriorating.
“We are preventing the situation from worsening — we’ve  restored power and pumped in fresh water — and making basic  steps towards improvement but there is still no room for  complacency,” Yukio Edano told a news briefing on Saturday.
More than 700 engineers have been working in shifts to  stabilise the plant with no end in sight.
At Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear power accident in  the United States, workers took just four days to stabilise the  reactor, which suffered a partial meltdown. No one was injured  and there was no radiation release above the legal limit.
At Chernobyl in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident in the  world, it took weeks to “stabilise” what remained of the plant  and months to clean up radioactive materials and cover the site  with a concrete and steel sarcophagus.

So far, no significant levels of radiation have been  detected beyond the vicinity of the plant in Fukushima.

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