Soaring radioactivity deals blow to Japan’s plant rescue

TOKYO, (Reuters) – Workers were withdrawn from a  reactor building at Japan’s earthquake-wrecked nuclear plant today after potentially lethal levels of radiation were  detected in water there, a major setback for the effort to avert  a catastrophic meltdown.
The operator of the facility said radiation in the water of  the No. 2 reactor was measured at more than 1,000 millisieverts  an hour, the highest reading so far in a crisis triggered by a  massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
That compares with a national safety standard of 250  millisieverts over a year. The U.S. Environmental Protection  Agency says a single dose of 1,000 millisieverts is enough to  cause haemorrhaging.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. later said  the extremely high radioactivity readings might have been wrong,  adding the levels were being re-checked.
“The situation is serious. They have to pump away this water  on the floor, get rid of it to lower the radiation,” said Robert  Finck, radiation protection specialist at the Swedish Radiation  Safety Authority, speaking before the operator expressed doubt  about the high reading.
“It’s virtually impossible to work, you can only be there  for a few minutes. It’s impossible to say how long it will take  before they can gradually take control.”
The Japanese government said the overall situation was  unchanged at the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
“We did expect to run into unforeseen difficulties, and this  accumulation of high radioactivity water is one such example,”  Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news briefing.
Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic  Energy Agency (IAEA), said the nuclear emergency could go on for  weeks, if not months. “This is a very serious accident by all  standards,” he told the New York Times. “And it is not yet  over.”
Two of the plant’s six reactors are now seen as safe but the  other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke.
At Chernobyl in Ukraine a quarter of a century ago, the  worst nuclear accident in the world, it took weeks to stabilise  what remained of the reactor that exploded and months to clean  up radioactive materials and cover the site with a concrete and  steel sarcophagus.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers have been working around  the clock to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi plant since the  earthquake and tsunami knocked out the back-up power system  needed to cool the reactors.

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