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Wednesday
Mar162011

Radiation Leak Halts Work at Damaged Japanese Reactors

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- Work to stabilize the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was halted early Wednesday because radiation leaking from the units made the situation unsafe, Japanese officials said.

Radiation levels started to rise sharply after steam was seen escaping from unit 3 at the plant, which was damaged first by the powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan Friday, and then by an explosion in the reactor.

There have been explosions in two other reactors at the plant, and two fires at a fourth unit, which was being used as a storage facility for radioactive material.

A Japanese government official also indicated for the first time that the containment vessels of all three of the reactors at the plant that exploded may be leaking, raising worries of dangerous radiation leaks.

Both the release of steam and the work stoppage came after firefighters extinguished a fire at the plant's unit 4.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that radiation dose rates of up to 400 millisievert (mSv) per hour had been reported at the Fukushima plant site immediately following one of the explosions. A typical chest X-ray exposes an individual to about 0.02 mSv.

However, after the steam was observed escaping from unit 3, radiation levels rose sharply, a government spokesman said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there was a reading of 1,000 millisieverts before the level began falling again to 600-800 millisieverts per hour, which is still considered unsafe.

"So the workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now," Edano said. "Because of the radiation risk, we are on standby."

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged those living from 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay indoors. The 140,000 people living within 12 miles of the plant have been evacuated. So far, 150 people from that area have tested positive for radiation exposure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

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