Radioactive water leaks from crippled Japan plant

Authorities have located an 8-inch-long crack they believe may be the source of radiation in seawater near plant

Topics: Japan Earthquake, Japan, Nuclear Power,

Radioactive water leaks from crippled Japan plantMembers of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force gather to search the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated area in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, Saturday, April 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)(Credit: AP)

Highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean from a tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant Saturday as Japan’s prime minister surveyed the damage in a town gutted by the wave.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the plant and flew over the tsunami-ravaged coast soon after the wave hit, but Saturday was the first time he set foot in one of the pulverized towns.

Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped in Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings still standing. All its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it.

The prime minister bowed his head for a minute of silence in front of the building. He met with the town’s mayor, whose 38-year-old wife was swept away in the wave and is still missing. Officials fear about 25,000 people may have been killed, many of whose bodies have not been found.

“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan later told 250 people at an elementary school that is serving as an evacuation center.

Megumi Shimanuki, whose family is living in a similar shelter 100 miles (160 kilometers) away in Natori, said Kan didn’t spend enough time with people on the ground. Kan returned to Tokyo in the afternoon.

“The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims,” said Shimanuki, 35. “Both deserve attention.”

Saturday’s leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Measurements showed the air above the radioactive water in the pit contained more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. Even just two feet (60 centimeters) away, that figure dropped to 400 millisieverts. Workers have taken samples of the water in the pit and seawater and are analyzing them to determine the level of contamination.



Radiation quickly disperses in both air and water, and experts have said that it would be quickly diluted by the vast Pacific Ocean, where even large amounts have little effect. TEPCO is trying to pour concrete to seal the 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) crack, spokesman Takashi Kurita said.

“This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination,” Nishiyama said. “There could be other similar cracks in the area, and we must find them as quickly as possible.”

Radioactive iodine-131 at concentrations higher than the legal limit was first detected in waters off the plant more than a week ago. Readings released Saturday showed radiation in seawater had spread to 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the plant; the concentration of iodine there was twice the legal limit, but officials stressed it was still well below levels that are dangerous to human health.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether workers who have been rushing to bring the reactors under control were exposed. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant have been evacuated, and no fishing is taking place in the waters just off the plant.

Because of the evacuations, the plant workers have been the primary people exposed to the radiation leaks.

A worker fell into the ocean Friday while trying to board a barge carrying water to help cool the plant, the nuclear safety agency said Saturday. He was immediately plucked from the water and rinsed off, and he tested negative for skin contamination. He said he did not think he had swallowed any water, but officials are still waiting for test results to make sure he was not exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

Another crew member described difficult conditions inside the complex in an interview published Saturday.

The plant has run out of the nylon protective booties that workers put over their shoes. Earlier, TEPCO acknowledged that the tsunami had destroyed many of the gauges used to measure radiation, forcing workers to share. More gauges have since arrived at the site.

“We only put something like plastic garbage bags you can buy at a convenience store and sealed them with masking tape,” said the worker, who spoke to the national Mainichi newspaper. Such interviews have been exceedingly rare and always anonymous.

The worker also said the tsunami littered the grounds with dead fish that remained scattered throughout the plant, attracting birds.

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-generated tsunami. Three weeks later, more than 165,000 people are living in shelters, while 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

People whose houses are within the evacuation zone are growing increasingly frustrated and some have been sneaking back in. Government officials warned Friday that there were no plans to lift the evacuation order anytime soon.

After the quake, Tadashi and Ritsuko Yanai and their 1-month-old boy fled their home, which is six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant. Baby Kaon has grown accustomed to life in a shelter, but his parents haven’t.

When asked if he had anything he would like to say to Kan, the 32-year-old father paused to think and then replied: “We want to go home. That’s all, we just want to go home.”

Thousands of families are also still awaiting news of their loved ones. More than 15,500 people are still missing.

U.S. and Japanese troops launched an all-out search of the coastline Friday for any remaining bodies in what could be their last chance to find those swept out to sea. They have found nearly 50 bodies since Friday, most floating in coastal waters. So far, 11,800 deaths have been confirmed.

Up and down the coast, helicopters, planes and boats carrying U.S. and Japanese troops scoured for the dead again Saturday.

Some bodies may have sunk and just now be resurfacing. Others may never be found.

Coast guard crews conducting similar searches rescued a dog Friday that was drifting on a rooftop. It took several hours to grab the dog because it initially scampered across other floating wreckage as crews winched down from a helicopter. It was unclear how long the dog had been at sea.

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Koriyama, Jay Alabaster in Natori, and Ryan Nakashima, Mayumi Saito and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>