Japanese officials say the reactor core of one of the units at the crippled Fukishima nuclear plant may have been damaged in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as they consider raising the accident to a higher assessment level.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, the deputy director of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, revealed the development during a press briefing Friday. The reactor is built in Fukishima’s number three unit, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion three days after the twin disasters. The possible damage to the reactor core raises the likelihood of even greater radiation contamination to the area.
Two emergency workers suffered burns on their legs Thursday after wading into water filled with abnormally high levels of radiation. They and a co-worker were attempting to restore power to cooling pumps at the number three reactor when they were injured.
The NISA has rated the Fukishima crisis at a level five on the international scale measuring the intensity of a nuclear event. It is considering raising it one more level, which is defined as a serious accident.
Meanwhile, Japan’s national police agency said Friday the official death from the massive quake and tsunami has now topped 10,000 people, with more than 17,500 others listed as missing. About 300,000 are living in temporary shelters.
Workers have been scrambling to pump seawater into the damaged Fukishima units to cool the reactors, which is corroding the metal around the fuel rods because of an accumulation of tons of salt. Japan’s defense ministry says pure water and pumps supplied by the U.S. military will be brought to the plant to replace the seawater process.
Radiation has been found in milk and vegetables coming from a wide area surrounding the plant. Australia, Canada, Russia and Singapore have all joined the United States in imposing new restrictions on Japanese food exports. Nishiyama of NISA says it is possible that radioactive matter will continue to travel far away, and testing about the extent of the emissions needs to be made.
Levels of radiation considered unsafe for babies has been detected in the water supplies of three prefectures near Tokyo.