Japanese workers are trying to remove pools of water that contain highly radioactive substances from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant as radioactive levels in the sea near the plant spike.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Friday the situation at the plant remains precarious. He thanked emergency workers he says are risking their lives trying to cool the plant.
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says radioactive iodine has been found at more than 1,200 times the legal limit in seawater 300 meters from the Fukushima plant. But it says the levels about 30 kilometers from the plant are within acceptable limits.
Chief Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said Saturday it is difficult to predict when the nuclear crisis will end.
Workers are now pumping fresh water instead of seawater into the damaged reactors and fuel rod pools in hopes it will be more effective in cooling them. The seawater was corroding the metal around the fuel rods because of an accumulation of tons of salt.
Japanese authorities have urged residents still living within a 20- to 30-kilometer radius of Fukushima to voluntarily leave the area.
Japan’s national police agency said Friday the official death toll 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.
Also on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he supports calls for a reassessment of the international emergency response framework and nuclear safety regime.
Elsewhere, China became the latest nation to ban imports of Japanese food and agricultural products from areas surrounding Fukushima, joining the United States, Australia, Canada, Russia and Singapore.