Tokyo Electric Says It Found Plutonium in Soil Samples Near Nuclear Plants

Tokyo Electric Power Co. found plutonium in soil samples taken near the stricken Fukushima Dai- Ichi nuclear plant a week ago, the company said.

The presence of plutonium outside the plant means there’s been degradation of the fuel in at least one of the six reactors, Denis Flory, deputy director general of safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said yesterday at a press briefing in Vienna. Tokyo Electric can’t determine which reactor emitted plutonium, Vice President Sakae Muto said in a briefing shown on a webcast.

The contamination “shouldn’t have any effect on human health,” Muto said.

Soil chemistry may determine whether the plutonium can spread from the site, Edwin Lyman, a radiological specialist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said on a conference call. Some compounds formed by plutonium are water soluble, and some aren’t, he said.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said there are “mixed signals” coming from emergency repair efforts at Fukushima. “The situation continues to be very serious,” Amano said in Vienna yesterday.

Radiation levels that can prove fatal have been detected outside reactor buildings at the plant for the first time, complicating efforts to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out power at the plant, disabling its cooling systems and forcing Tokyo Electric to dump thousands of tons of seawater on the complex as a stopgap measure.

Tainted Seawater

Radioactive iodine in seawater collected near the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors was 1,150 times the legal limit, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said. The iodine is unlikely to have come from the No. 5 or 6 reactors, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the agency, told reporters yesterday.

Damage to reactor buildings, including a possible breach in the No. 2 unit’s containment vessel, has made it harder for workers to get close enough to fix the equipment without risking their health.

Elevated radiation levels have been detected in crops grown near the plant as well as the water supply in Tokyo, 220 kilometers (138 miles) to the south, and other regions. This has triggered bulk-buying of bottled water at supermarkets that have been forced to restrict purchases.

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