Japanese Nuclear Plant Officials Apologize Over Radioactivity Scare

Inaccurate reading shows levels 10 million times higher than normal.

March 27, 2011, 12:44 PM

March 27, 2011— -- Japanese officials have apologized after an inaccurate reading of a massive increase in radioactivity at the Fukushima Dai-ichi today caused a panic that led to workers to flee the facility.

The inaccurate reading at Unit 2 showed levels 10 million times higher than normal in the reactor's cooling system. Such a massive spike led the workers taking the measurements to immediately leave the plant before taking a second measurement.

If exposed to such high levels workers would die within four of five hours, according to Professor Edward Morse of the University of California, Berkeley.

The inaccurate reading was confirmed as a mistake Sunday night by operators at the plant.

"The number is not credible," said Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) spokesman Takashi Kurita. "We are very sorry."

Kurita said that officials are taking another sample to find out the current accurate levels. He said that he is unsure when the new readings will be available.

Officials have also confirmed that radioactive water has now been found in all four of the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The most recent airborne radiation levels in Unit 2 have measured 1,000 millisieverts per hour, according to Kurita.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano has said that the radiation is "almost certainly" seeping from a cracked reactor core in one of the units, while he insisted on Sunday that the situation at the plant has stabilized.

"We have somewhat prevented the situation from turning worse. But the prospects are not improving in a straight line and we've expected twists and turns. The contaminated water is one of them and we'll continue to repair the damage," Edano said.

Still, a grim and lengthy outlook for the country's ongoing nuclear situation is being acknowledged.

"We cannot say at this time how many months or years it will take," TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto said on Sunday.Michio Kaku, a Japanese-American physicist told ABC News that the amount of the impairment is still unclear.

"Quite frankly, we don't know the extent of core damage. In unit one, we suspect that 70% of the core is damaged. In unit 2 we suspect 33 percent of the core is damaged. In unit 3 we really don't know," Kaku said.

According to Minoru Ogoda, of Japan's nuclear safety agency, each Unit may contain tens of thousands of gallons of radioactive water, which workers must safely remove and store.

It has been confirmed that pools of radioactive water have been found in Units 1 and 3, while standing water at Units 2 and 4 is now being tested for radioactivity.

Plans to pump the water into containers in each Unit designed for such a situation were thwarted when they turned out to be completely full, according to Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The contaminated water also caused a roadblock in connecting regular power to restart the cooling systems, is it filled the turbine buildings that cables had to be laid through.

Speaking with reporters Sunday evening, Nishiyama acknowledged the challenges that are facing the relief effort but insisted is stabilizing.

"The problem is that right now nobody can reach the turbine houses where key electrical work must be done. There is a possibility that we may have to give up on that plan," he said.

"We have somewhat prevented the situation from turning worse," Edano told reporters Sunday evening. "But the prospects are not improving in a straight line and we've expected twists and turns. The contaminated water is one of them and we'll continue to repair the damage."

Today's confusion over radioactivity levels is the latest addition in a number of conflicting reports and views coming from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.TEPCO is stressing that their first priority is to find the path and to find the leak in the reactor. They suspect that the radioactive material is coming from the reactor.

Meanwhile, experts at Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said that the radioactive materials could be leaking directly from the reactor core, which would indicate a breach.

Morse, of the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering believes that officials jumped the gun, and that the material could be coming from any number of places -- most likely from the spent fuel pools, he said.

From data he has seen, he believes the material is a few days old and they're just discovering it after testing it for the first time.

Japan's Government Scolds Power Co. On Worker Safety

The Tokyo Power Company was criticized by the Japanese government for not properly protecting workers – whose injuries have become indisputable proof that the reactor core has been compromised.

Several of the workers braving the front lines of the crisis have received severe radiation burns to their legs, after the power company sent them in without proper protective gear -- including boots that came up just to their ankles.

On Saturday, TEPCO issued an apology.

"If we had given the employees a heads up, we would have been able to avoid their exposure to the radiation. We regret our lack of communication, "a TEPCO official said.

Approximately 58 percent of respondents in a phone survey of 1000-plus people in Japan said they approved of the government's handling of the recent disasters, but a similar number criticized its handling of the nuclear crisis, according to the Associated Press.

Japan's death toll since the March 11 earthquake and 10,668 Sunday with 16,574 people missing, police said. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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