Fukushima nuclear plant to be entombed in concrete as Japan admits it has lost battle with crippled reactors. U.S. sends specialist Marine unit to assist in decontamination.
By Richard Shears
31st March 2011
Up to 1,000 bodies of victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami have not been collected because of fears of high levels of radiation.
Police sources said bodies within the 12-mile evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been ‘exposed to high levels of radiation after death’.
It follows the discovery of a body on Sunday in Okuma, just three miles from the power plant, which revealed elevated levels of radiation.
Fears have now been raised that police officers, doctors and bereaved family members may be exposed to radiation as they go to retrieve the bodies.
Japan Today said authorities initially planned to inspect the bodies after transporting them outside the evacuation zone, but that is now being reconsidered.
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Thousands of people have been forced to leave the area around the plant, which is leaking radioactive materials as its cooling systems failed.
Cremating the bodies could spread radiation further, while burying the victims could also cause contamination in the soil.
Darkness: The workers need to shine torches through the dark to find directions and make calculations about how to cool the stores of uranium rods
Authorities are believed to be considering decontaminating bodies where they are found, which could damage them further.
It comes after Japan finally conceded defeat in the battle to contain radiation at four of Fukushima’s crippled reactors. They will now be shut down.
Details of how this will be done are yet to be revealed, but officials said it would mean switching off all power and abandoning attempts to keep the nuclear fuel rods cool.
The final move would involve pouring tonnes of concrete on the reactors to seal them in tombs and ensure radiation does not leak out.
The country’s nuclear safety agency revealed levels of radiation in the ocean near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant had surged to 4,385 times the regulatory limit.
The dramatic announcement that the four reactors are out of control and will have to be decommissioned was made yesterday by the chairman of the electric company operating the Fukushima plant.
With a deep bow and a grimace, Mr Tsunehisa Katsumata finally offered a humble apology for the failure to stop the leakage of radiation.
His face pale as he spoke in Tokyo, Mr Katsumata said he felt particularly sorry for people who have had to flee from their homes or even refrain from stepping outside while they have been trying to cope with the impact of the March 11 earthquake and aftershocks.
In admitting that four of the troubled reactors would have to be shut down for good, he left no doubt in the minds of observers that he knew the battle to keep their fuel rods cool could not be won.
‘I am very sorry for the trouble and anxiety caused by the radiation leaks,’ said Mr Katsumata, speaking in public for the first time since problems at the plant surfaced in the days following the earthquake and tsunami.
‘We’ve not been able to cool the reactors but we are employing maximum efforts to stabilise them,’ he said.
Yesterday the levels of radiation in the ocean was measured at 3,355 times above the standard.
Officials have attempted to downplay the dangers posed by the high presence of radioactive isotopes in the water, saying that the iodine-131 isotope loses half of its radiation every eight days.
But amounts of the cesium-137 isotope – which has a 30-year ‘half life’ – have also soared to 527 times the normal level.
Michael Friedlander, a U.S. based nuclear engineer, told CNN: ‘That’s the one I am worried about.
‘Plankton absorbs the cesium, the fish eat the plankton, the bigger fish eat smaller fish – so every step you go up the food chain, the concentration of cesium gets higher.’
Fishing is not allowed with 12 miles of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but authorities still do not know where the radioactive water is coming from.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the stricken plant, was preparing itself to compensate for people’s losses and damage – ‘according to the law’ – caused by the radiation leaks.
But it warned that a $24billion bank loan would not be enough to keep it afloat and pay for Japan’s worst nuclear disaster without a government bail out.
Asia’s largest utility, TEPCO has seen its share price crash 80 per cent since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami sparked the crisis.
It is also facing a massive compensation bill, thought to be as much as $12billion, as a result of the nuclear disaster.
Japan’s prime minister and other figures have heavily criticised TEPCO for its handling of the disaster.
Public mistrust in the company after a series of confusing radiation readings were issued has exacerbated the problem.
Yesterday, TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu was taken to hospital suffering from high blood pressure and dizziness.
He has not been seen in public since a March 13 press briefing amid speculation about his leadership.
Damage: A fire crew drives through the deserted plant in a hopeless bid to cool the overheating nuclear rods, while, right, an office that would have once housed dozens of workers stands empty and wrecked
Chairman Katsumata has taken over his responsibilities and said: ‘There are lots of discussion about nationalisation, but I will do my best to ensure TEPCO remains as a private company.’
Mr Katsumata referred to farmers and fishermen in the Fukushima region whose products – leafy green vegetables, milk and coastal-swimming fish – are feared to have been contaminated by radiation poisoning.
Mr Katsumata also had to apologise for the inconvenience caused by his company’s rolling blackouts that have affected the entire main island of Honshu.
He left no doubts that the blackouts would continue for a long time – he said his company would do its best to work closely with the government to minimise or even avoid rolling blackouts during the coming summer.
But with four reactors now in line to be shut down and the stability of the two remaining reactors at the Fukushima plant in doubt, there are questions whether the blackouts will cease – the diminished power from Fukushima puts pressure on other electric companies operating nuclear plants around the country.
The U.S. military has sent a marine unit specialising in nuclear emergency response to be on hand if needed, ABC News reported.
Around 155 Marines from the Chemical Biological Incident Reponse Force (CBIRF) are scheduled to arrive in Japan tomorrow.
The team, trained in personnel decontamination and radiation level monitoring, will provide decontamination from Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo.
Japan will also be using U.S. robots to help identify radiation leaks.
The robots, which feature miniature tank tracks, radiation sensors and a camera to view what is going on, will be sent from the U.S. Energy Department in Idaho.
Traces of radiation have been found in milk in Washington state, the U.S. government confirmed.
The Environmental Protection Agency said a sample of milk from Spokane contained 0.8 pico curies per litre of iodine-131 – less than one five-thousandth of the safety guidelines.
It said it expected similar findings, but that amounts were ‘far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children’.