Breached Reactor Core at Fukushima Plant, Radiation Outside Evacuation Zone Too High for Infants [Updated]

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Photo: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

Nuclear-safety officials in Japan suspect that a reactor core at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has cracked, leaking radiation. The plant has been leaking low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a larger release of contaminants. "It’s very possible that there has been some kind of leak at the No. 3 reactor," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman at the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. Although the radioactive water at the unit most likely escaped from the reactor core, it could also have come from the spent fuel pools stored on top. A breach was first suspected after two workers stepped into water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than the water typically used to cool reactors. They were attempting to connect a power cable in the basement of No. 3's turbine building. Both were hospitalized yesterday with radiation burns.

The Tokyo Electric Power company that operates the plant said it found eight different types of radioactive material in the water. The company plans to drain the radioactive water from the building, but still doesn't know how and when it will do this.

Just as fears quieted over tap water in Tokyo, a new estimate shows that levels of radioactivity are above the government's limit for infants even outside the twelve-mile evacuation zone. The estimate was produced by modeling radiation readings at various points around the plant. For the most part, areas that exceeded government thresholds fell within the evacuation zone. But the modeling showed cumulative exposure from the past twelve days extending beyond the radius.

Officials said by even the most conservative standards, a person would have to have been in the area and outdoors constantly since the earthquake to receive that dose. But they did advise more people living nearby to evacuate because basic necessities are in short supply. Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary and primary spokesman, told reporters, "It’s becoming difficult for people to live a normal life and we can’t rule out the possibility of broadening the mandatory evacuation if radiation levels rise."

*This post has been updated from its original version to incorporate new information.

Reactor Core May Be Breached, Leaking Radiation at Plant [Bloomberg]
Suspected reactor core breach could be a major setback in bringing Fukushima plant under control [NYP]
Related: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: The Worst-Case Scenarios Explained