Further signs of spreading contamination and hazardous working conditions surfaced Thursday as Kyodo News reported radioactive iodine 10,000 times above the legal limit in groundwater near the unit 1 reactor at the facility.
Earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iitate, a village 25 miles northwest of the power plant, posted radiation levels “about two times higher” than levels at which it recommends evacuations.
The mandatory evacuation zone extends only 12 miles around the stricken plant, although the government has encouraged people within 18 miles to evacuate voluntarily.
Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yukio Edano, said the government will heed the United Nations nuclear agency’s advice and step up its monitoring. “If the situation continues, there can be health risks, so we will take necessary actions depending on the results of these surveys.”
By Friday, government officials said radiation levels in Iitate remained within Japan’s safety standards. They attributed the confusion to differences in sampling and international thresholds for evacuation. The IAEA measures contaminants in the soil, and Japan uses atmospheric levels when making decisions about evacuation.
Nearly three weeks after a tsunami flooded the reactors’ cooling systems, triggering hydrogen explosions and partial nuclear meltdowns, traces of radioactive fallout have been tracked across the globe.
The Japanese government is churning out spreadsheets on radiation levels in the air, ocean and soil. Numbers are broadcast like weather reports in some cities and have informed bans on exporting vegetables, the evacuation limits and no-fishing zones.
Increasingly, those numbers arebeing scrutinized and second-guessed by residents of Japan, who fear the invisible isotopes and are skeptical of official safety assurances. Scores of international advocacy groups and university researchers are descending on the troubled region to monitor the impact of the disaster.
Foreign governments are also getting involved, pledging help to improve Japan’s monitoring. The U.S. Navy will send a 140-member radiological control team to aid in the battle against nuclear fallout, Gen. Ryoichi Oriki, Japan Self-Defense Force chief, said at a news conference. The Navy’s “radcon” team already had a 21-member unit stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan to assess the radioactivity levels on aircraft.
And French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and pledged more technical assistance. A team of French engineers is working with Tepco.