A leak of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has been stopped, the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
“Workers confirmed at 5:38 am (2038 GMT) that the water running off out of a pit had stopped,” the embattled operator said in a statement.
TEPCO had on Tuesday injected sodium silicate, a chemical agent known as “water glass”, to solidify soil near a cracked pit, from where highly radioactive water had been seeping through and running into the sea.
The water had been found to have a radiation level of more than 1,000 millisieverts and is believed to be the source of spiking radioactive iodine-131 readings more than 4,000 times the legal limit in ocean waters.
The pit, which has a 20-centimetre crack in its wall, is linked to the plant’s reactor No. 2, one of those which had its cooling systems put out of action by the quake and tsunami of March 11, triggering the nuclear crisis.
Several unsuccessful attempts had been made to try to plug pipes that run to the pit, using a polymer and even newspapers and sawdust, and an effort to seal the crack with cement had also failed to stop the leak.
Separately, TEPCO has been pumping low-level radioactive water into the sea to free up urgently needed safe storage space for water so toxic that it is halting crucial repair work.
EU to tighten radiation limits on Japan
The EU is planning to tighten radiation limits on Japanese food imports, Austria’s health ministry said on Tuesday, citing EU health commissioner John Dalli at a meeting in Hungary.
Fabian Fusseis, a spokesman for Austrian Health Minister Alois Stoeger who attended a meeting of EU health ministers in Godollo Castle outside Budapest, quoted Dalli as saying stricter radiation limits would be imposed on Japanese food following the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso confirmed the plans during a session of the European Parliament.
“We have a regulation that was established after Chernobyl,” Barroso said, referring to the world’s worst nuclear accident in Ukraine in 1986.
That regulation was “made based on the best scientific evidence” at the time, he said.
‘Japan has different threshold’
Japan, however, which takes an “extremely sensitive position” in matters of food security, had “a different level, a different threshold than the one we have in Europe”, Barroso said.
Therefore “during this period we have decided that on a transitional basis we are going to implement the standards of Japan (where) the levels permitted are lower,” he said.
Meanwhile, “we are going to consult the committee of experts on a national and a European level so that we can, if appropriate, establish common uniform rules for all imports”.
Such a move was purely precautionary, Barroso insisted, saying any readings had shown “negligible” levels of radioactivity that were well below European and Japanese norms.
The EU wants its current radiation limits to be brought in line with those of Japan in the cases of caesium-134 and caesium-137, Dalli’s spokesman Frederic Vincent told AFP.
That would lower the level of permissible contamination to 500 becquerels per kilogram from 1250 becquerels per kilogram at present.
The new limit for iodine-131 would be 2000 becquerels per kilogram and for strontium-90 it would be no more than 750 becquerels per kilogram.
At present, the EU asks the Japanese authorities to check all food exports for radiation while the national authorities of the importing countries monitor at least 10 per cent of goods arriving.
Last year the EU imported 9000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables from Japan.