Japan on 'maximum' nuclear alert
As fears of serious contamination grew, workers scrambled hard to stop radioactive water from reaching the sea.
Tokyo/Fukushima: As fears of more serious contamination grew following detection of plutonium in soil of its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan on Tuesday announced it was on "maximum alert" over the situation, with its workers scrambling hard to stop highly radioactive water from reaching the sea.
"This quake, tsunami and the nuclear accident are the biggest crises for Japan" in decades, Prime Minister Naoto Kan told Parliament, more than two weeks after the natural calamity struck the country's northeast leaving over 28,000 people dead or unaccounted for.
The situation at the troubled nuclear plant "continues to be unpredictable," he said, adding the government "will tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert."
The Prime Minister said that he was seeking advice on whether to extend the 20-km evacuation zone around the plant. He also said that it is "highly likely" that the six-reactor Fukushima plant will eventually be decommissioned.
In Paris, France's Industry and Energy Minister Eric Besson said that a French nuclear fuel company would send two experts to Japan to help tackle the crisis at the crippled nuclear plant.
At the request of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), France's Areva SA will send experts on removal of radioactive materials contained in water, he said.
France stands ready to send more experts in other fields and provide necessary support if requested by Japan, the minister said.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference that the situation at the plant is "very serious" and suggests "a certain degree of melting of fuel rods", as he expressed deep concern over detection of
plutonium in the soil of the crippled facility.
TEPCO, which yesterday announced detection of plutonium, said the confirmed amount of the radioactive material in the soil does not pose a major risk to human health. It said the plutonium is believed to have been discharged from nuclear fuel at the plant and pledged that it would strengthen monitoring of the environment in and around the nuclear plant.
Sakae Muto, Vice President of the utility company, was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency that it is "not easy to examine how far it (the plutonium) has reached."
Plutonium is more toxic than other radioactive substances such as iodine and cesium and increases the risk of cancer if absorbed by human bodies.
High levels of radiation exceeding 1,000 millisieverts per hour has also been detected in water in a trench outside the No 2 reactor's building at the nuclear plant, with the contaminated water suspected to have come from the reactor's core where fuel rods have partially melted, authorities said.
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