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Reactor Core May Be Leaking at Damaged Fukushima Plant

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan
Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on March 25, 2011. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

March 26 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s nuclear regulator said a reactor core at the quake-damaged Fukushima power plant may be leaking after workers were injured by radioactive water.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said yesterday there may be some kind of leak from the reactor, causing high levels of radiation found in water in the basement of the reactor No. 3’s turbine building.

“We’re trying to prevent a deterioration of the situation,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a public address in Tokyo yesterday. “We must continue to work with a high sense of alertness.”

Repair work at the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl has been plagued by explosions, fires and leaks of toxic material. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said pools of radioactive water had accumulated at other reactors, Kyodo News reported.

Tokyo Electric plans to drain the water from the building, Osamu Yokokura, a spokesman, said. It has yet to determine how and when to do this, he said.

“The water that is coming out of that area is much higher in terms of radiation and this is obviously complicating the clean up,” said Tony Roulstone, an atomic engineer who directs the University of Cambridge’s master’s program in nuclear energy. “If it’s leaking out then they have to figure out some way to contain this water.”

High Radiation

The agency said yesterday it doesn’t think there is a physical crack in the pressure vessel or containment vessel, which surround the core, at the No. 3 reactor.

Tokyo Electric found water at No. 1 reactor with radiation levels 10,000 times higher than normal cooling water, company officials said at a press conference shown on a webcast.

The March 11 quake, Japan’s biggest ever, left the plant without power needed to cool nuclear fuel rods. Japan yesterday advised more people living close to the nuclear plant to evacuate because basic goods are in short supply, while assuring them that radiation levels haven’t risen.

Radiation readings for residents living between 20 kilometers (12 miles) and 30 kilometers from the plant are falling, according to the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

An order for the residents to remain inside their homes doesn’t have to be amended right now, commission member Seiji Shiroya said yesterday.

Damaged Reactors

Should the reading for radioactive substances start to increase, the commission will advise the government to change the order for evacuation, he told a press conference in Tokyo.

The cores of three reactors are still badly damaged and it’s not clear that cooling can be restored to all the reactors, Edwin Lyman, a researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said.

The nuclear industry was lulled because there hasn’t been a large-scale accident in 25 years, Lyman said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Street Smart.”

“Complacency set in among regulators and the industry,” he said. “It’s clear the industry can’t survive too many more events like this.”

The death toll from the quake and tsunami climbed to 10,102 as of 9 p.m. local time yesterday, with 17,053 people missing, according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo.

The spread of radiation to food and water supplies prompted bulk-buying of bottled drinks even as the government said the health threat remained minimal.

To contact the reporters on this story: Go Onomitsu in Tokyo at gonomitsu@bloomberg.net; Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo at thirokawa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net

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