* Uncertainty over source of high radiation at plant
* People in zone 20-30 km from plant encouraged to leave
* More than 10,000 dead, 17,500 missing after quake, tsunami
* Serious concern about plant remains - IAEA
(Adds comment from IAEA, U.S. Treasury secretary)
By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO, March 26 Highly radioactive water has
been found at a second reactor at a crippled nuclear power
station in Japan, the plant's operator said, as fears of
contamination escalated two weeks after a huge earthquake and
tsunami battered the complex.
Underscoring growing international concern about nuclear
power raised by the accident in northeast Japan, U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement it was time to
reassess the international nuclear safety regime.
Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, making his first
public statement on the crisis in a week, said the situation at
the Fukushima nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of
Tokyo, was "nowhere near" being resolved.
"We are making efforts to prevent it from getting worse, but
I feel we cannot become complacent," Kan told reporters. "We
must continue to be on our guard."
The comments reflected a spike of unease in Japan after
several days of slow but steady progress in containing the
nuclear accident, which was triggered by a devastating
earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
The 9.0 magnitude quake and giant waves it triggered left
more than 10,000 people dead and 17,500 missing.
Despite such a shocking toll, much attention since the
disaster has been on the possibility of a catastrophic meltdown
Two of the plant's six reactors are now seen as safe but the
other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke.
More than 700 engineers have been working in shifts to
stabilise the plant and work has been advancing to restart water
pumps to cool their fuel rods.
But fresh fears were raised on Thursday when three workers
trying to cool the most critical reactor were exposed to
radiation levels 10,000 times higher than normally found in a
reactor. They were hospitalised after walking in contaminated
water though they are expected to be discharged soon.
The high level of contamination raised the possibility of a
leak of radioactive material through a crack in the core's
container which would mean a serious reversal following slow
progress in getting the plant under control.
The reactor, the No. 3 unit, is the only one to use
plutonium in its fuel mix which is more toxic than the uranium
used in the other reactors.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)
, and the state nuclear safety agency said late on
Friday similarly contaminated water had been found at the
turbine building of the No. 1 reactor.
"We do not know the cause," a TEPCO official told a news
conference. The new find ing had
delayed work again, another official said.
Senior nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama
said the high radiation meant there could be damage to the
reactor but he later said it could be from venting operations or
water leakage from pipes or valves.
"There is no data suggesting a crack," he said.
Nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) said on Friday there had not been much change in the
crisis over the previous 24 hours.
"Some positive trends are continuing but there remain areas
of uncertainty that are of serious concern," agency official
Graham Andrew said in Vienna, adding the high radiation could be
coming from steam.
Seventeen workers had received elevated levels of radiation
since the operation began, the agency said.
Authorities have been using seawater to cool the
re a ctors but it is corrosive and
leaves salt deposits that constrict the amount of water that can
cool fuel rods.
TEPCO said it had started injecting freshwater into the
pressure vessels of reactors No.1 and No.3 and expected to start
injecting freshwater into No. 2 soon.
At U.N. Headquarters in New York, Ban called a high-level
meeting to "take stock of the international response to the
latest developments" in Japan. He said he was encouraging
countries "to consider lessons learned" and to strengthen
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has prodded tens of
thousands of people living in a 20 km-30 km (12-18 mile) zone
beyond the stricken complex to leave, but insisted it was not
widening a 20 km evacuation zone.
"Given how prolonged the situation has become, we think it
would be desirable for people to voluntarily evacuate," said
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
Authorities have already cleared about 70,000 people from a
20-km (12-mile) zone around the plant.
Edano has maintained there was no need to expand the
evacuation zone, but an official at the Science Ministry
confirmed that daily radiation levels in an area 30 km (18
miles) northwest of the plant had exceeded the annual limit.
Vegetable and milk shipments from near the stricken plant
have been stopped, and Tokyo's 13 million residents were told
this week not to give tap water to babies after contamination
from rain put radiation at twice the safety level.
It dropped back to safe levels the next day, and the city
governor cheerily drank tap water in front of cameras.
Experts say radiation from the plant is still generally
below levels of exposure from flights or medical X-rays.
Nevertheless, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, the
United States and Hong Kong are restricting food and milk
imports from the zone. Other nations are screening Japanese
food, and German shipping lines are simply avoiding the country.
In Japan's north, more than a quarter of a million people
are in shelters. Exhausted rescuers are still sifting through
the wreckage of towns and villages, retrieving bodies.
Amid the suffering, though, there was a sense the corner was
being turned. Aid is flowing and phone, electricity, postal and
bank services have resumed, though they can still be patchy.
Owners of small businesses have begun cleaning up.
"Everybody on this block has the firm belief that they are
going to bring this thing back again," said Maro Kariya in the
town of Kamaishi, as he cleared debris from a family coffee
The estimated $300 billion damage makes it the world's
costliest natural disaster. Global financial market jitters over
the crisis have calmed, though supply disruptions are affecting
the automobile and technology sectors.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he was not
concerned that the crisis in Japan would impede a U.S. recovery.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Jon
Herskovitz in Kamaishi, Michael Shields and Sylvia Westall in
Vienna; Writing by Robert Birsel)