Plutonium found in soil at N-plant

Worries galore: Japan PM under fire over nuke disaster

Some opposition lawmakers blasted Naoto Kan in parliament for his handling of the disaster and for not widening the exclusion zone. Kan said he was seeking advice on such a step, which would force 130,000 people to move in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

The drama at the six-reactor facility has compounded Japan’s agony after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 left more than 28,000 people dead or missing in the devastated northeast.

French support

In a gesture of support, France said it had sent two nuclear experts to Japan to help contain the accident and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit on Thursday for a meeting with Kan.

France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, producing 75 per cent of its power needs from 58 nuclear reactors, and selling state-owned Areva’s reactors around the world.

Sarkozy will be the first foreign leader to visit since the earthquake.

In the latest blow to hopes authorities were gradually getting the plant under control, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in soil samples at the facility.

A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say.
They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor’s containment mechanism had been breached.

Workers at Fukushima may have to struggle for weeks or months under extremely dangerous conditions to re-start cooling systems vital to control the reactors and avert total meltdown.

The crisis, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, has contaminated vegetables and milk from the area, as well as the surrounding sea. US experts said groundwater, reservoirs and the sea all faced “significant contamination”.

Evacuation zone

Experts have said the lack of information and some inconsistent data made it hard to understand what was happening at Fukushima, which appears to have moved from a core-meltdown phase to one in which management of released radioactivity is paramount.

Another pressing concern has been the well-being of people living near the plant. More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from within 20 km of the facility.

But opposition MP Yosuke Isozaki blasted Kan for not ordering people living between 20 km and 30 km from the plant to also leave.

Environmental group Greenpeace has urged an extension of the 20-km evacuation zone while the United States has recommended its citizens who live within 80 km (50 miles) of the plant to leave or shelter indoors.

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