Engineers toil to pump out Japan plant; radiation spikes

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese engineers struggled today to pump radioactive water from a crippled nuclear power station after radiation levels soared in seawater near the plant more than two weeks after it was battered by a huge earthquake and a 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 is likely to 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.

Prolonged efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the 40-year-old plant have also intensified concern around the world about nuclear power. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.

The crisis at the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, 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 27,100 people dead or missing in northeast Japan.

Engineers trying to stabilise the plant have to pump out radioactive water after it was found in buildings housing three of the six reactors.

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