South Korea raises radioactive alarm

CONCERNS over radioactive leaks into the ocean from Japan’s stricken Fukushima plant deepened.

South Korea reportedly lodged a protest yesterday over the dumping of millions of litres of radioactive water.

Meanwhile, tests showed radioactive iodine and cesium had been found in fish caught in the Pacific Ocean south of the plant since northeastern Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11.  The death toll has exceeded 12,000, with more than 15,000 people unaccounted for.

Water sampled just off the plant – where a leak continued to emit radioactive substances into the sea – showed radioactive iodine levels of 7.5 million times the legal limit on Saturday.

A sample of sand eels caught off Ibaraki Prefecture, south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, found 4080 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive iodine, and 447 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium. The cesium concentration in the eels is just below the Japanese limit for human consumption.

There is no limit in Japan for iodine in fish and meat, but the maximum allowable in drinking water is 300 becquerels per kilogram and in vegetables 2000 becquerels per kilogram.

News of the concerns from South Korea over the dumping of the 11.5 million litres of water – part of an emergency operation that began on Monday – emerged in a report from that country’s Yonhap news agency. South Korea’s embassy in Tokyo had relayed the concerns to Japan on Monday, asking what measures it was taking to stem the effect of radiation in neighbouring waters, Yonhap reported.

Japanese Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said he hoped the dumping – carried out to clear space in tanks at the plant to store much more highly radioactive water – would be a one-off event.

By mid-yesterday, 3.4 million litres had been dumped.  Authorities aimed to use the newly emptied storages, along with offshore barges, to store up to 60 million litres of contaminated water at the plant, where efforts to keep broken reactors and spent fuel cool continued to consume large quantities of water.

Workers at the plant were continuing efforts to plug a leak that was allowing highly radioactive water, thought to be originating in the core of the plant’s No 2 reactor, to reach the ocean.

The latest method deployed was affixing a steel plant to try to block the flow.  Meanwhile, Japan’s meteorological agency – under fire for sitting on charts predicting the spread of radioactive substances from Fukushima – has been ordered to start disclosing such projections.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano, yesterday ordered the Japan Meteorological Agency to begin publishing radioactivity maps and said it “should have made the data public” already.  Mr Edano was responding to reports in the Yomiuri Shimbun that found the JMA had made charts predicting the daily spread of radioactivity and presented them to the UN’s chief nuclear agency but not the public. Countries including Germany and Norway have been producing their own radiation dispersal forecasts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency uses all available data to make its own analysis but the decision on releasing it is left up to individual governments.  Mr Edano said the JMA refused to release the data because it feared releasing it could cause public misunderstanding about radiation threats.

The JMA had earlier said it did not release forecasts because the accuracy was low and there was the risk of the IAEA and the Japanese predictions giving conflicting information.  The Japanese government said yesterday it was likely to need to implement power rationing for the first time since the oil shock of the 1970s.

Shares in Fukushima operator TEPCO plummeted further, closing at Y=362 ($4.15), well below the company’s previous full-day closing low of Y=393 on December 11, 1951.

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