Workers trying to regain control of a runaway nuclear power plant discovered plutonium in soil by Fukushima Dai-ichi. That is significant, because it almost assuredly means there has been a partial meltdown of fuel rods. A complete meltdown would probably send large releases, and plumes of radiation into the environment.
Plutonium is highly toxic, and it remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, while it decays.
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan says is now in a state of maximum alert. “The quake, tsunami and the nuclear accident are the biggest crisis for Japan” in decades, Kan told Parliament.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano put it this way, “The situation is very grave, we are doing are utmost to contain the damage.”
Crews continue to pile sandbags to prevent further water leaks headed for the ocean. That could set off a new obstacle in what could become the world’s worst nuclear accident. In the most ominous way, Kan said the developments gave almost no reason for optimism.
Kan has come under fire for his visit to Fukushima the day after the tsunami, which plant operators are now privately saying it delayed their effort in responding to the emergency.
Kyodo news service quoted Kan saying it was not a “political performance.” And, “Grasping the situation at the plant at that time was extremely important.”
For days now, workers have tried to restore electricity to the cooling systems, but have been hampered by many other obstacles, which includes doing what is humanely possible to keep high levels of radioactive water from entering the ocean.
Contamination has seeped into vegetables, milk, water, and perhaps fish.
In the past few days, Japanese officials have been more transparent. Edano told reporters that Japanese safety standards were not enough, “our preparedness was not sufficient. Edano went on to say that when the crisis is over Japan must, “examine the accident closely and thoroughly review,” standards.
The death toll since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has risen to roughly 11,000, and the expectation is that 18,000 people were killed.
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