* Removing radioactive water a priority
* People in zone 20-30 km from plant encouraged to leave
* More than 10,000 dead, 17,500 missing after quake, tsunami
(Adds disaster's impact on fishing industry)
By Chizu Nomiyama and Shinichi Saoshiro
TOKYO, March 26 Radiation levels have soared in
seawater near Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,
officials said on Saturday, as engineers struggled to stabilise
the power station two weeks after it was hit by a massive
earthquake and tsunami.
Tests on Friday showed iodine 131 levels in seawater 30 km
(19 miles) from the coastal nuclear complex had spiked 1,250
times higher than normal, but it was not considered a threat to
marine life or food safety, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
"Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it
will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and
seaweed," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior agency official.
Despite that reassurance, the disclosure may well heighten
international concern over Japanese seafood exports. Several
countries have already banned milk and produce from areas around
the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while others have been monitoring
The prolonged efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at
the plant have also intensified concern around the world about
nuclear power. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was
time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.
Engineers were trying to pump radioactive water out of the
power plant 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, after it was
found in buildings housing three of the six reactors. On
Thursday, three workers sustained burns at reactor No. 3 after
being exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than
usually found in a reactor.
The crisis at the nuclear plant has overshadowed a big
relief and recovery effort from the magnitude 9.0 quake and the
huge tsunami it triggered on March 11 that left more than 27,500
people dead or missing in northeast Japan.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said it was
using fresh water instead of seawater to cool down at least some
of the reactors after concern arose that salt deposits might
hamper the cooling process.
Two of the plant's reactors are now seen as safe but the
other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke.
However, the nuclear safety agency said on Saturday that
temperature and pressure in all reactors had stabilised.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Friday the situation at
Fukushima was "nowhere near" being resolved. His chief cabinet
secretary said the following day that at least it was not
"We are preventing the situation from worsening -- we've
restored power and pumped in fresh water -- and making basic
steps towards improvement but there is still no room for
complacency," Yukio Edano told a news briefing on Saturday.
More than 700 engineers have been working in shifts to
stabilise the plant with no end in sight.
At Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear power accident in
the United States, workers took just four days to stabilise the
reactor, which suffered a partial meltdown. No one was injured
and there was no radiation release above the legal limit.
At Chernobyl in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident in the
world, it took weeks to "stabilise" what remained of the plant
and months to clean up radioactive materials and cover the site
with a concrete and steel sarcophagus.
So far, no significant levels of radiation have been
detected beyond the vicinity of the plant in Fukushima.
The U.S. Department of Energy said on its website (here)
no significant quantities of radiological material had been
deposited in the area around the plant since March 19, according
to tests on Friday.
In Tokyo, a metropolis of 13 million people, a Reuters
reading on Saturday morning showed ambient radiation of 0.22
microsieverts per hour, about six times normal for the city.
That was well within the global average of naturally occurring
background radiation of 0.17-0.39 microsieverts per hour, a
range given by the World Nuclear Association.
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. Edano said the residents should move
because it was difficult to get supplies to the area, and not
because of elevated radiation.
Kazuo Suzuki, 56, who has moved from his house near the
nuclear plant to an evacuation centre, said neighbours he had
talked to by telephone said delivery trucks were not going to
the exclusion zone because of radiation worries.
"So goods are running out, meaning people have to drive to
the next town to buy things. But there is a fuel shortage there
too, so they have to wait in long queues for gasoline to use the
Radiation levels at the evacuation centre were within a
normal range of about 0.16 microsievert, according to a Reuters
geiger counter reading.
In Japan's northeast, more than a quarter of a million
people remain in shelters, and the impact on livelihoods is
becoming clearer. The quake and tsunami not only wiped out homes
and businesses but also a fishing industry that was the
lifeblood of coastal communities.
"Fishermen lost their gear, ships and just about
everything. About half will probably get out of the business,"
said Yuko Sasaki, a fishmonger in the tsunami-hit city of
The double disaster probably destroyed aqua farms for
abalone, sea urchins, oysters, scallops and seaweed that
authorities say account for 80 percent of the revenue of the
The tsunami obliterated centuries-old fishing ports along
the northeast coast, sending ships adrift in the Pacific Ocean,
to the bottom of the sea, or depositing them on land, where they
now lie among the splintered remains of homes.
(Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant,; Kazunori Takada and
Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Chisa Fujioka in Yamagata, Jon
Herskovitz in Kamaishi, Editing by Robert Birsel)