Officials try to deflect new fears of radiation from Japan's damaged nuclear plant

03/21/11 wire reports including AP
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The director of operations of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Bill Borchardt, says there is no current breach in containment at 3 reactors in Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

"All 3 units appear to be in a stable condition, the seawater injection being used to keep the reactors cool. Containment integrity for all 3 units is currently maintained. We do not expect the releases of radioactive material that have occurred in Japan to have any effect on the health and safety of the US population. Natural background from things like from rocks, sun, buildings, is 100,000 times more than any level that has been detected to date."

Tokyo Electric Power officials have been battling to cool reactors and spent fuel pools to bring the radiation-leaking plant under control after it was damaged in the massive March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan.

Police estimate the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami will top 18,000.

Meanwhile, traces of radiation are tainting vegetables and some water supplies. It's prompted the government to ban the sale of raw milk, spinach and canola in a region that extends from the plant toward Tokyo.

The U.S. State Department is offering potassium iodide to its staff in Japan as a precaution against a possible radiation release from the plant.

In a travel warning released early Monday, the State Department advises its employees to refrain from taking the compound at this time. The government says it is making potassium iodide available "out of an abundance of caution" to its personnel and family members, and the compound should only be consumed after specific instruction from the U.S. government.

Operators evacuated workers from Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear plant Monday after gray smoke rose from the plant's reactor Unit 3. The smoke raises concerns about the water level in the pool needed to keep the fuel from overheating and releasing even greater amounts of radiation.

Through a translator, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said authorities at the stricken nuclear plant have not detected higher levels of radiation, despite reports of smoke coming from one of the reactors.

"We have heard that smoke is coming out from the number 3 reactor building as was already reported but the monitoring shows that we do not see any great changes in the readings. There are all kinds of inflammable objects inside the reactor building besides the reactor itself, therefore we would like to continue that the people working the field will find out the cause, however, so far there is no problem in terms of radiation levels increasing. Levels that exceed the provisional standard set by the government has been observed however these also are not levels that would immediately harm human health. For certain items we have instructed to stop shipping of certain products."

Japan's nuclear safety agency says the operator of the country's troubled nuclear complex repeatedly failed to make crucial inspections of equipment in the weeks before it was crippled in the quake and tsunami.

In a report released nine days before the disasters, the agency criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co. for not inspecting 33 pieces of equipment.

Among the machinery the utility missed were backup generators, pumps and other parts of cooling systems that the tsunami later swamped, leading to the plant's overheating and the release of radioactive gas.

Previous WMNF news coverage of Japan

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