Japanese PM for scrapping crisis-hit N-plant

Tokyo/Fukushima: Japanese Premier Naoto Kan on Thursday favoured decommissioning the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant as radiation seeping into sea from the crippled facility tested 4,385 times higher than the legal limit, amid mounting pressure on the government to expand the evacuation zone.

As engineers struggled to contain Japan`s worst atomic crisis in decades, Kan told the Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii that the entire six-reactor Fukushima nuclear power station at the centre of the crisis must be put out of service, Kyodo reported.

His remarks came a day after the plant`s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said that it would scrap four stricken reactors at the facility, situated 220 km northeast of Tokyo.

The Prime Minister also said he would look into reviewing the existing plans to build at least 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030, in the wake of the ongoing atomic crisis triggered by the monster March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that ravaged Japan`s northeast leaving nearly 30,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

In a sign that contamination was leaking continuously from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, radioactive iodine-131 at a concentration of 4,385 times the maximum level permitted under law was detected in seawater around 330 metres south of the plant yesterday, according to the latest data.

It exceeded the previous high recorded the day before, which was 3,355 times the maximum legal limit.

In Vienna, Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General and head of the agency`s nuclear safety and security department, said that readings from soil samples collected from the village of Iitate, about 40 km from the plant, "indicate that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation has exceeded" there from the current 20-km limit.

To this, Japan`s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said his government may implement the measures, if necessary, such as urging people living in the area to evacuate, if it is found that the contaminated soil will have a long-term effect on human health.

While denying that the situation posed an immediate threat to human health, the government said it plans to enhance radiation data monitoring around the plant on the Pacific coast.

Edano said that authorities will step up monitoring of radiation contamination near the troubled nuclear plant.

"We have no plans to immediately evacuate people, but naturally, high radiation levels in soil, if continued over a long period of time…will likely affect human health, so we need to step up our monitoring, and if need be take steps to deal with it," he said.

With authorities saying that it would take time for the nuclear crisis to be brought under control, Edano told reporters that Japan and the IAEA agreed that they would not rule out the possibility of the situation worsening.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan`s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, acknowledged that there is a possibility that radiation continues to leak from the plant into the sea. "We must check that (possibility) well."

The nuclear regulatory body has also decided to add another three areas located 15 km offshore for monitoring.

An official of TEPCO said it is likely that the high level of contamination in seawater has been caused by water that has been in contact with nuclear fuels or reactors, but how it spread to the sea remains unknown, Kyodo reported.

The No.1, No.2 and No.3 reactors at the plant are believed to have suffered damage to their cores, possibly releasing radioactive substances, while the fuel rods of the No.4 reactor kept in a spent fuel pool are also believed to have been exposed at one point, after the units lost cooling functions in the wake of the March 11 quake and tsunami.

TEPCO is also engaged in efforts to remove contaminated water filling up some of the reactors` turbine buildings and tunnel-like trenches connected to them.

Electrical pumps or trucks capable of shooting water from outside the damaged reactor buildings are currently being used to cool down the fuel.

Radiation fears have prevented authorities from collecting as many as 1,000 bodies of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami from within the 20-km-radius evacuation zone around the stricken nuclear plant, police sources were quoted as saying by Kyodo.

Meanwhile, a 6.2 magnitude quake rocked an area in northeastern Japan, the US Geological Survey said, adding that its epicentre was off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, which had suffered a massive damage in the twin disaster earlier this month.