Japan Reviewing Water Tests Showing Iodine at 10,000 Times Limit

Tokyo Electric Investors May Be Wiped Out
An aerial handout photograph taken on Thursday, March 24, 2011, from an unmanned airplane, shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Source: Air Photo Service via Bloomberg

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said test results may be incorrect that detected radioactive iodine about 10,000 times the safety limit in underground water at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

Tokyo Electric found the radioactive water near the No. 1 reactor turbine building while performing tests recommended by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, according to a statement yesterday. The company later said those results and others may be wrong and it will re-examine the data.

Workers have been spraying water on the reactors to keep radioactive fuel rods cool since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, causing the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tokyo Electric reported radiation in water outside one of the Fukushima reactors this week that exceeded 1 sievert an hour, a level that would trigger sickness and potential death for exposed workers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Workers have averted a total meltdown at the plant by injecting seawater into damaged reactors after its cooling systems lost power.

Radiation “far below” levels that pose a risk to humans was found in milk from California and Washington, the first signs Japan’s nuclear accident is affecting U.S. food, according to Obama administration and state officials.

The U.S. is stepping up monitoring of radiation in milk, rain and drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration said in a statement yesterday.

Plutonium in Soil

The Japanese utility has found plutonium in soil samples near the site that it says shouldn’t be enough to affect human health. Contamination of seawater found near the plant increased this week, with radioactive iodine rising to 4,385 times the regulated safety limit from 2,572 times, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

There was 180 becquerel per cubic centimeter of radioactive iodine-131 found in the ocean 330 meters (1,082 feet) south of the plant. Drinking one liter of fresh water with that level would be equivalent to getting double the annual dose of radiation a person typically receives.

Japan’s damaged nuclear plant may be in danger of emitting sudden bursts of heat and radiation, undermining efforts to cool the reactors and contain fallout. Limited, uncontrolled chain reactions are among the phenomena that might occur at the plant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.

Seawater Contamination

Edano was responding to statements by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has “emphasized that the nuclear reactors won’t explode,” he said. Japan’s nuclear agency said there’s no possibility of uncontrolled chain reactions.

Moody’s Japan K.K. cut its rating on Tokyo Electric and warned it may reduce it further, saying the problems at Fukushima “appear far from being resolved” and the company is likely to remain unprofitable for a long time. Senior secured and long-term issuer ratings were downgraded to Baa1 from A1, Moody’s said in a statement.

The number of dead and missing from the earthquake and tsunami had reached 27,973 as of 9 p.m. yesterday, Japan’s National Police Agency said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE