Entries in Contamination (5)


New Leak at Japan's Crippled Nuclear Power Plant?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- There are new fears Thursday that radioactive water may be leaking from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after a drop in water level was discovered at a wastewater disposal building.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, said the latest leak was discovered amid efforts to transfer highly contaminated water from reactors two and three to an improvised storage facility.

The company said the water level in the facility dropped nearly two inches in just 20 hours, meaning nearly 60 tons of water may have leaked from the facility.

The utility has been pumping massive amounts of water in an effort to cool three of Fukushima's reactors, a process TEPCO has said would be completed in three months.  Large leaks have already been reported in reactors one and two, and news of this latest leak marks yet another setback in the effort to stabilize the reactors.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Greenpeace released new data on the impact these radiation leaks are having on marine life.

After running tests on samples collected near the nuclear power plant, the environmental group found that radiation levels in seaweed were 50 times higher than official limits.  It also discovered higher levels of radioactive iodine and caesium in fish and shellfish.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Fish Supply in Danger of Mass Contamination

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Worries in Japan are mounting that its fish supply has been contaminated by radioactive fallout from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

It was already announced by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company that highly radioactive water from the damaged reactors has spilled into the sea from an uncontrolled leak.

On Tuesday, samples of tiny fish taken from the waters off Japan's Pacific coast revealed they were tainted with high levels of radioactive materials.  What is particularly worrisome is that the fish were caught about 50 miles south of the reactors, well beyond the 12-mile evacuation zone set up by the Japanese government.

This development could prove catastrophic on a number of levels, since Japan largely depends on fish for food and commerce, not to mention what the environmental damage could be to local marine life.

The discovery also seems to belie TEPCO's claims that the water seeping from the reactors into the sea posed no immediate threat to humans or the environment.  Officials also announced Wednesday that the leak of fluids containing radioactive materials had stopped.

Meanwhile, TEPCO is dealing with another controversy: the dumping of 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water into the sea last Monday.  The company says it was necessary to make room for storage space for more contaminated water it's draining from the reactors.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tokyo's Tap Water Restrictions Lifted After Drop in Radiation Levels

Comstock/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- The restrictions that had been placed on drinking tap water in Tokyo were lifted Thursday after readings showed that radiation levels had dropped to an allowable threshold.

On Wednesday, Japanese officials advised that the tap water was not safe for babies after the supply tested two times above the limit for radioactive iodine.  The Tokyo Water Bureau reported at a news conference that the number of Becquerel per unit detected is 210.  The allowable level for infants is 100, while the allowable level for adults is 300.

The panic from the initial announcement was evident when stores were quickly emptied of their bottled water stock as people ignored pleas to only take what they needed.

There are grave concerns that a shortage of uncontaminated water will leave little clean water for those living in the areas most devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 18,000 people.

To help out, the local government began distributing nearly a quarter of a million bottles of water to homes with infants.  It's believed there are about 80,000 babies in Tokyo, which has a population of 13 million.  The earlier radiation warning specifically noted that the radiation levels in tap water were especially harmful to infants but were not an immediate health risk for adults.

Contaminated water is not the only problem in Japan.  Radioactive toxins have also seeped into raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables that are produced in the immediate vicinity of the affected nuclear plant, prompting a ban on their distribution and sale.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Officials Say Tokyo Water Radiation Level Unsafe for Infants

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese officials issued a statement Wednesday advising that tap water in Tokyo is not safe for infants after the supply tested two times above the limit for radioactive iodine.

The Tokyo Water Bureau reported at a news conference that the number of Becquerel per unit detected is 210.  The allowable level for infants is 100, while the allowable level for adults is 300.

Officials said that babies in Tokyo should not be fed tap water, but that the level is not an immediate health risk for adults.

Radiation has now seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and even seawater in the areas surrounding the plant.  Broccoli was added Wednesday to a list of the country's tainted vegetables, which also now includes spinach, canola and chrysanthemum greens.

Meanwhile, news Wednesday morning from Japanese nuclear officials regarding the country's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is not promising.  A spokesman for the nuclear safety agency said that high-level radiation fields of 500 millisieverts per hour were detected at Unit 2's turbine building a few days ago, and that's preventing workers from trying to restore power at the control room.  At those levels a worker would reach Japan's imposed emergency exposure limit of 250 millisieverts within 30 minutes.

Five hundred millisieverts of acute exposure is also the generally accepted threshold at which individuals begin to suffer immediate health effects.

The temperature and pressure readings in the core of Unit 1 are also a major concern.  The vessel is designed to a threshold of 302 degrees Celsius.  Currently, its external temperature is now about 400 degrees Celsius.

It has been reported that the unit is not in danger of melting, but seawater is now being injected at nine times the previous rate.

That, too, has to be done very carefully, as adding water increases the pressure inside the reactor vessel.  If pressure gets too high, it would likely result in the need to release radioactive steam to reduce the pressure and avoid damage to the vessel or, even worse, an explosion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Halts Contaminated Food Shipments from Area Near Plant

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- As the death toll mounts from Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japanese health officials are now faced with evidence of radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant seeping into milk and spinach.

The officials made the decision Monday to ban shipments and consumption of the foods from Fukushima Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture.  The tainted milk was found within a 20-mile radius of the plant while the spinach turned up more than 65 miles away, about half the distance to Tokyo.

Substances detected in food were iodine 131 and cesium 137, both byproducts of reactors.  High levels of iodine 131 can cause thyroid cancer, while cesium 137 can lead to damaged cells and cancer.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, consuming the contaminated food for a year would expose someone to about the same radiation one would receive in a single CT scan.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that exposure measures about seven millisieverts, or double the annual exposure per person in an industrialized country.

Meanwhile, radioactive iodine that has turned up in Tokyo's tap water is supposedly at such low levels that the Japanese government contends it's nothing to be worried about.

All these new concerns came as the government Monday updated the official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami to 8,600.  It’s expected that the number of fatalities will eventually exceed 20,000.  In fact, some police estimates put the death toll now at 18,000.  Many thousands are still missing.

In other developments, over the weekend, officials with the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, said there was some progress in restoring power to the two least damaged reactors, numbers 5 and 6.

Reactor 3 is proving to be the most problematic, prompting discussions about venting more radioactive gases to avoid a potentially catastrophic pressure build-up.  However, by late Sunday, TEPCO officials said that the pressure had gone down and there was no need to release more contaminated gases into the atmosphere.

Even as electrical power was being routed to all the reactors crippled by the earthquake and tsunami in order to power the idled cooling systems, there was no clear indication whether those cooling systems will actually work.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio