March 25th, 2011
01:45 PM ET

Japan reactor core may be leaking radioactive material, official says

CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) - Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

Contaminated water likely seeped through the containment vessel protecting the reactor's core, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Three employees working near the No. 3 reactor Thursday stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant, Nishiyama said. An analysis of the contamination suggests "some sort of leakage" from the reactor core, signaling a possible break of the containment vessel that houses the core, he said.

The workers have been hospitalized and work inside the reactor building has been halted, according to the agency.

Work inside two other reactor buildings also had to stop and workers had to be pulled back Friday after the discovery of high levels of radiation in water at those locations, a Tokyo Electric Power Company official said Saturday. Water is still being pumped into the containment vessels, the utility official said.

Nuclear power experts cautioned against reading too much into the newest development, saying the workers exposed to radioactive water might not suffer injuries any more serious than a sunburn.

Moreover, evidence of radioactivity in the water around the plant is not necessarily surprising given the amount of water sprayed onto and pumped into the reactors, said Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts institute of Technology.

"I am not particularly alarmed," he said.

The reactor thought to be leaking contaminated water is the same one cited in the dramatic evacuation last week of a small crew of workers who had stayed behind after the plant's owner pulled most employees from the area. The workers were pulled back March 16 after white smoke began billowing from the reactor and radiation levels spiked.

At the time, the Japanese nuclear safety agency said it suspected damage to No. 3's containment vessel, but a government spokesman the next day said there had been no indication of a "major breach of containment."

That reactor is of particular concern, experts have said, because it is the only one at the plant to use a combination of uranium and plutonium fuel, called MOX, that is considered to be more dangerous than the pure uranium fuel used in other reactors.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Thomas Wells

    The reason that a ruptured reactor does not particularly alarm professor Hutchinson of MIT and those like him, is that have made their careers by being cheerleaders for the nuclear industry.This alarms me.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  2. Jim

    Can I ask CNN a Question?- WHY NOT USE A ROBOT to go IN & see What is Going on in the reactors If There IS a Leak Where It is Etc. ?????

    March 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  3. suzanne Dimeff

    As a trained former nuclear operator, though I don't have the credentials of your recent Japanese physicist author, I now agree with his suggestion of the Gorbachev remedy
    It is time to bury this baby – cobalt 60 though a beta emitter with only a 5.5 yr half life is dirty
    and should not get in our global atmosphere or ocean. A procedure to encapsulate the spent fuel ponds needs to be implemented not unlike what we did on Enewetok. Given that the spf pond has fresh fuel stored in with the actual spent fuel this is a two step process – initial shielding and a long term containment. Action needs to be taken PROMPTLY and I hope you can prompt the need for action. hi is not just a Japanese issue'- this is global

    March 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  4. Thomas

    Right about now, the 1959 film "On the Beach" with Gregory Peck seems very apropos. The movie is about Australians getting ready for the inevitable, after radioactive fallout has wiped out the rest of the world's population.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  5. Bixbyte

    The Neutron radiation will need to be encased in a large Concrete Block and then surrounded with a foot of lead. The people in Tokyo might have to be evacuated.
    There is Plutonium fission producing gamma rays.
    Have Fun ignoring all my previous posts.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:30 pm |