Japan radiation fears stall body removal

March. 31, 2011


TOKYO, March 31 (UPI) — The bodies of earthquake and tsunami victims haven’t been collected near Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant for fear of radiation, police said Thursday.

One authority said the nearly 1,000 bodies were "exposed to high levels of radiation after death," a comment supported by the detection of elevated radiation levels on a body found in Okuma, less than a mile from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Kyodo News reported.

Officials are now trying to figure out how to collect the bodies, taking into account the fear that emergency personnel, morgue workers, doctors and families may be exposed to radiation, sources told the news agency.

"Measures that can be taken vary depending on the level of radiation, so there need to be professionals who can control radiation," said an expert on radiation exposure. "One option is to take decontamination vehicles there and decontaminate the bodies one by one."

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami killed tens of thousands of people, left as many missing, and caused horrendous economic losses, estimated up to $300 billion in the seven of the worst-hit prefectures.

Residents within a 12-mile zone of the Fukushima plant have been forced to leave since the nuclear disaster began. The Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, rocked by explosions and fires triggered by the natural disasters, is leaking radioactive materials as efforts continue to restore cooling systems for its reactors and nuclear spent-fuel rod pools.

Officials reported radiation levels rose Thursday in ocean water near the damaged nuclear facility. Tests of Pacific Ocean water collected Wednesday indicated radiation levels caused by iodine-131, suspected to be from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, jumped to 4,385 times the legal limit, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

The plant is so heavily damaged that Tokyo Electric Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said four of the plant’s six reactors will be decommissioned.

CNN said utility and government agencies had not determined whether the iodine-131 came from the atmosphere or through seepage from the plant. Officials have stressed radiation levels do not yet pose a health risk to humans through seafood because fishing is not allowed within 12 miles of the plant.

Kyodo News reported a new a problem Thursday. Engineers spotted water containing low-level radiation at a building designed for radioactive waste disposal at the plant, and where the trench water is meant to be transferred.

Sources told Yomiuri Shimbun the government may consider spraying resin into the disabled plant to stop the spread of radioactive materials. Resin could minimize the release of radioactivity, which would allow the restoration work to continue. Using helicopters to spray chemicals and building temporary structures to store contaminated water also were being considered.

"We have to end the crisis at the nuclear plant, minimize radioactive contamination of surrounding areas and prevent any health damage," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Wednesday. "To accomplish that, we have experts in various fields working on a variety of plans, including possibly covering (the buildings at the plant)."

In Tokyo, Japanese and French leaders agreed Thursday that the two countries will cooperate in drafting international nuclear safety standards by the end of the year, Kyodo said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said during a joint news conference that nuclear issues would be the main agenda item when Group of Eight ministers gather in France in May. Sarkozy, the G8 chairman, said he will try to release a communication on nuclear safety during the summit.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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