Traces of plutonium have been found in the soil at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japanese officials said on 28 March 2011. The officials also said the plutonium traces were not at levels considered harmful to human health.
The discovery of plutonium, which is a byproduct of nuclear reactions, added to anxiety over the stricken plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo.
Earlier, the government confirmed that levels of radioactivity in water leaking from a reactor at the facility resulted from a partial meltdown of fuel rods, amid growing fears that radiation may also have seeped into seawater and soil.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], said readings of plutoinium-238, 239 and 240 were similar to those recorded in other parts of Japan after nuclear tests conducted overseas.
“I apologise for making people worried,” Tepco’s vice president, Sakae Muto, told reporters. “It’s not at a level that’s harmful to human health.”
But an official from Japan’s nuclear safety agency was more cautious. “While it’s not at a level harmful to human health, I am not optimistic,” Hidehiko Nishiyama said. “This means the containment mechanism is being breached, so I think the situation is worrisome.”
Tepco said the figure was 10m times higher, a mistake the government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, said was “absolutely unforgivable”.
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