Dangerous Breach Suspected At Japan Nuke Site - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Dangerous Breach Suspected At Japan Nuke Site

Workers from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex are shielded with tarps before receiving decontamination treatment at a hospital on Friday Workers from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex are shielded with tarps before receiving decontamination treatment at a hospital on Friday

TOKYO - A suspected breach in the reactor core at one unit of a stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials said Friday, revealing what may prove a major setback in the mission to bring the leaking plant under control.

The uncertain situation halted work at the complex, where dozens had been working feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation, officials said.

The plant has leaked some low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a much larger release of contaminants.

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than normal and suffered skin burns, the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency said.

However, though damage cannot be ruled out, the cause remained unclear, spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters.

"It is possible there may be damage somewhere in the reactor," he said, adding later that there was no data suggesting there were any cracks and that a leak in the plumbing or the vents could be to blame.

Officials have previously said that small explosions at the reactor could have damaged it, but the high seepage of radiation could imply worse damage than previously believed.

A rupture in a reactor would mean a serious reversal following days of slow progress in containing radiation leaks.

More than 700 engineers have been working in shifts around the clock to stabilize the six-reactor complex.  

The confusion was yet another setback to the urgent task of gaining control of the plant 140 miles northeast of Tokyo two weeks after a magnitude-9 quake triggered a tsunami that engulfed the facility and knocked out its crucial cooling system.

The plant has been releasing radiation, with elevated levels turning up in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips.

Tap water in several areas of Japan — including Tokyo — also tested with radiation levels considered unsafe for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.

The scare caused a run on bottled water in the capital, and prompted city officials to distribute bottled water to families with babies.

In the latest contamination finds, Kyodo reported that radioactive cesium 1.8 times higher than the standard level was found in a leafy vegetable grown at a Tokyo research facility.

Experts say radiation leaking from the plant is still mainly below levels of exposure from flights or dental and medical X-rays.

Meantime, officials are also grappling with a humanitarian crisis in the northeast, where hundreds of thousands of survivors remain camped out in schools and civic buildings two weeks after the tsunami swallowed up swaths of the coast.

Some 660,000 households do not have water and more than 209,000 do not have electricity.

The estimated $300 billion damage from the quake and tsunami makes this the world's costliest natural disaster, dwarfing Japan's 1995 Kobe quake and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

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