Japan Utility Ordered to Review Soaring Radiation Figures
April 1, 2011
Among the measurements called into question was one from
Thursday that TEPCO said showed groundwater under one of the
reactors contained iodine concentrations that were 10,000
times the government's standard for the plant, the safety
agency's spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said. Seawater and air
concentrations from this week also are under review.
"We have suspected their isotope analysis, and we will wait
for the new results," Nishiyama said, adding that the agency
thinks the numbers may be too high. TEPCO has conceded that
there appears to be an error in the computer program used to
analyze the data and that recent figures may be inaccurate.
They have indicated they are probably too high but have also
said that the figures may be correct, despite the glitch.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has held out the
possibility that a complete review of all radiation data
collected since the tsunami might eventually be ordered.
Though the size of more recent leaks is now unclear, it
appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant,
underscoring TEPCO's inability to get it under control. The
company has increasingly asked for international help in its
uphill battle, most recently ordering giant pumps from the
U.S. that were to arrive later this month to spray water on
Seiki Kawagoe, an environmental science professor at Tohoku
University, said it was unlikely that radiation seeping into
the ground under the plant would affect drinking water. He
noted that radiation tends to dissipate quickly in the
ground, as it does in the ocean. But there are two ways the
iodine could eventually affect drinking water if
concentrations were high enough. One is if it were to seep
into wells in the area. For now, a 12-mile (20-kilometer)
radius around the plant has been cleared, though residents
of the area are growing increasingly frustrated with
evacuation orders and have been sneaking back to check on
Tsunami Relief: Network for Good
The other concern is that contaminated water from the plant
could seep into underground waterways and eventually into
rivers used for drinking water. Tomohiro Mogamiya, an
official with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's
water supply division, said that was "extremely unlikely"
since groundwater would flow toward the ocean, and the plant
is right on the coast. The two closest filtration plants for
drinking water have both been shut down because they are
just inside the exclusion zone.
"When people return to the area we will test the water to
make sure it is safe," said Masato Ishikawa, an official
with the Fukushima prefecture's food and sanitation
division. Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese
public, already struggling to return to normal life after
the earthquake-borne tsunami pulverized hundreds of miles
(kilometers) of the northeastern coast. Three weeks after
the disaster in one of the most connected countries in the
world, 260,000 households still do no have running water and
170,000 do not have electricity. Officials fear up to 25,000
people may have been killed. In the latest report of food
becoming tainted, the government said Friday that a cow
slaughtered for beef had slightly elevated levels of cesium,
another radioactive particle. Officials stressed that the
meat was never put on the market.
Radioactive cesium can build up in the body and high levels
are thought to be a risk for various cancers. It is still
found in wild boar in Germany 25 years after the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster, making the pigs off-limits for eating in
many cases. Contamination has also affected work at the
plant itself, where radioactive water has been pooling,
often thwarting the vital work of powering up the complex's
cooling systems. Despite the leaks, TEPCO hasn't had enough
dosimeters to provide one for each employee since many were
destroyed in the earthquake. Under normal circumstances, the
gauges, which measure radiation, would be worn at all times.
Officials said Friday that more meters had arrived and
there are now enough for everyone.
"We must ensure safety and health of the workers, but we
also face a pressing need to get the work done as quickly as
possible," said nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko
Nishiyama. Until now, sharing meters "has been an
unavoidable choice." TEPCO has repeatedly relaxed safety
standards during the crisis in order to prevent frequent
violations. That is not uncommon during emergencies.
Though the company has acknowledged that it was initially
slow to ask for help in dealing with the nuclear crisis,
experts from around the world are now flooding in. French
nuclear giant Areva, which supplied fuel to the plant, is
helping figure out how to dispose of contaminated water, and
American nuclear experts are joining Japanese on a panel to
address the disaster.
Japan has also ordered two giant pumps, typically used for
spraying concrete, from the U.S. They are being retrofitted
to spray water first, according to Kelly Blickle, a
spokeswoman at Putzmeister America Inc. in Wisconsin. At
least one similar pump is already in operation at the plant.
U.S. troops also are involved in the search for the dead.
Japan's defense ministry said that, starting Friday, the two
militaries will create joint teams to look for bodies from
So far 11,500 people have been confirmed dead. Of those,
more than 9,000 have been identifed. Another 16,400 are
missing, and many may never be found.
Hundreds of thousands more people are living in evacuation
centers, most because they lost their homes in the tsunami.
But others have been forced to leave their houses near the
plant because of radiation concerns.
Some residents are growing angry and frustrated with the
government and are increasingly violating the bans to return
to their homes to gather whatever they can find. Fukushima
officials have put up posters in all evacuation centers
urging residents not to violate the cordon, but also are
pressing Tokyo to arrange trips in for the residents as soon
"There is no doubt in my mind that it is dangerous in
there," said Kazuko Hirohara, a 52-year-old nurse from
Minami Soma. "I just wish they would have thought about
safety before they ruined our lives."