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Japan seeks help from abroad

Many countries giving aid in nuclear crisis

Nagashima Rio, who was born on March 15, was tested for radiation contamination at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Japan. She was born at a hospital located about 30 miles from the damaged nuclear plant. Nagashima Rio, who was born on March 15, was tested for radiation contamination at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Japan. She was born at a hospital located about 30 miles from the damaged nuclear plant. (Kim Kyung-Hoon /Reuters)
By Ryan Nakashima and Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press / April 1, 2011

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TOKYO — Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilize its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave.

French, American, and international experts — even a robot — are either in Japan or on their way, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France visited Tokyo yesterday to meet with Japanese officials and show solidarity.

Workers are racing to find the source of contaminated water that has been pooling in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The leaks have often forced workers to flee the plant, preventing them from restarting important cooling systems.

“The amount of water is enormous, and we need any wisdom available,’’ said nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama.

Specialists from French nuclear giant Areva, which supplied fuel to the plant, are helping figure out how to dispose of the contaminated water that has begun leaking into the ground and the sea.

Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, said they welcome the help.

Utility officials also said they expect to use a remote-controlled robot sent by the United States within a few days to evaluate areas with high radiation. They are also setting up a panel of Japanese and American nuclear experts and US military personnel to address the crisis.

A Tokyo Electric Power spokesman said that radioactive contamination in groundwater nearly 50 feet under one of six reactors had been measured at 10,000 times the government standard for water at the plant. It was the first time the utility has released statistics for groundwater near the plant.

The utility did not immediately explain the health risks if that water were to get into the environment or say whether that was a possibility, although spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo said the drinking water supply has not been affected. Still, elevated levels of iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, were another sign that radiation continues to leak at the plant.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the tsunami and 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11. Some saw their homes destroyed by the wall of water, while others have been ordered to leave if they live 12 miles from the plant.

Some frustrated evacuees closer to the plant had begun trickling back to gather belongings and check on their homes, but officials in Fukushima prefecture posted warnings at evacuation centers telling them not to go back for any reason.

“There is not only a risk that you may be contaminated, but also that you could contaminate others in the evacuation centers when you return,’’ the warnings said. “The national government is now considering whether to allow brief return visits, so please bear with us.’’

Government officials today said they planned more tests on a cow slaughtered for beef that had very slightly elevated levels of cesium, another radioactive particle. Officials stressed that the meat was never put on the market. Contamination has already been found in vegetables and raw milk near the plant.

Health Ministry spokesman Taku Ohara said the cesium was found in a cow slaughtered March 15 more than 40 miles from the plant. It had a total cesium level of 510 becquerels per kilogram. The limit is 500.

Radioactive cesium can build up in the body and high levels are thought to be a risk for various cancers. Still, researchers who studied Chernobyl could not find an increase in cancers that might be linked to cesium.

It is still found in the soil of Germany, Austria and France 25 years after Chernobyl and is found in wild boar in Germany, making the pigs off-limits for eating in many cases.

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