Fukushima contamination 'well beyond' 30k zone: France

28th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Air-borne nuclear contamination has spread "well beyond" the 30-kilometre exclusion zone around Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, the head of France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said Monday.

"Beyond 30 kilometres (19 miles), it is clear that there are patches of contamination, and that a certain number of products have been polluted," Andre-Claude Lacoste told journalists at a briefing.

"It would not at all be surprising to find, here and there, contamination well beyond a radius of 100 kilometres (62 miles)," he said.

While precise measurements of radioactive pollution are still lacking, he added, "it is obvious that managing contaminated areas is going to take years, if not decades."

The government last week asked people still living between 20 and 30 kilometres from the plant to leave voluntarily, effectively more than doubling the previous exclusion zone.

Even inside the plant, disabled monitors and gauges make it impossible to determine water levels in spent fuel pools, or to know what percentage of fuel rods in the reactors might have melted, Lacoste said.

Workers trying to restore systems to cool overheating fuel rods sought on Monday to work around puddles of dangerously radioactive water discovered inside reactor number two.

Experts fear that the primary containment vessel housing the number two and three reactors are no longer intact, at that highly-contaminated water could be seeping into the soil or nearby sea.

"The situation remains extremely serious, and we remain in a major crisis," Lacoste said.

Only with the restoration of the plant's cooling systems and a steady supply of fresh water will it be possible to stabilise the reactors, he added.

Daily ASN assessments of the nuclear crisis, caused by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, are based on data from French nuclear experts in Japan, Japanese scientists and officials, and other governments monitoring the crisis, he said.

© 2011 AFP

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