Japan has said its crisis-hit nuclear plant must be scrapped, but currently had no plans to evacuate more people, despite calls for a larger exclusion zone around the crippled facility.
Grappling with the aftermath of a massive earthquake and tsunami, its biggest post-war disaster, Japan’s government hosted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called for clear international standards on nuclear safety.
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, in talks with the Japanese Communist Party leader, that the facility at the centre of the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986 must be decommissioned, Kyodo News reported.
Officials have previously hinted the plant would be retired once the situation there is stabilised, given the severe damage it has sustained including likely partial meltdowns and a series of hydrogen blasts.
Radioactive iodine-131 in groundwater 15 metres (50 feet) beneath the plant has reached a level 10,000 times the government safety standard, the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said early Friday.
It cautioned the figure — showing radioactive runoff from efforts to cool the plant has entered the water table — might be revised. TEPCO said Thursday iodine-131 in nearby seawater had hit a new high 4,385 times the legal level.
However, there were no plans to widen a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant despite the UN atomic watchdog saying radiation at Iitate village 40 kilometres away had reached evacuation levels.
“At the moment, we do not have the understanding that it is necessary to evacuate residents there. We think the residents can stay calm,” said Yoshihiro Sugiyama, an official at the nuclear safety agency.
Japan’s top government spokesman Yukio Edano also said further evacuations were not imminent, although he did not rule out that this could change.
“We will continue monitoring the level of radiation with heightened vigilance and we intend to take action if necessary,” he told reporters.
The comments came after the IAEA added its voice to that of Greenpeace, which has warned for several days that residents, especially children and pregnant women, should leave Iitate village.
The IAEA’s head of nuclear safety and security, Denis Flory, told reporters in Vienna that radiation levels there had exceeded the criteria for triggering evacuations.
He said the IAEA — which has no mandate to order nations to act — had advised Japan to “carefully assess the situation, and they have indicated that it is already under assessment.”
The reading in Iitate was two megabecquerels per square metre — a “ratio about two times higher than levels” at which the IAEA recommends evacuations, said the head of its Incident and Emergency Centre, Elena Buglova.
Authorities later said they would Friday lift restrictions issued earlier on drinking tap water in the village, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Radiation exceeding the legal limit was found for the first time in beef from near the Fukushima plant, Kyodo News reported early Friday, adding to concerns over food safety.
The local news agency also said up to 1,000 bodies of tsunami and earthquake victims were lying unclaimed in the nuclear exclusion zone.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Tokyo on Thursday in a show of solidarity with the disaster-hit nation, and urged nuclear authorities in the Group of 20 to establish an international safety standard.
“We call on the independent authorities of G20 members to meet, if possible in Paris, to define an international nuclear safety standard” for power plants, he said in a speech earlier in the day at the French Embassy in Tokyo.
“It is absolutely abnormal that these international safety standards do not exist,” he said, suggesting the Paris meeting could take place as early as May.