The Japanese government announced on Friday there is a suspected breach at the Daiichi nuclear facility near Fukushima, with radioactive contamination now feared to be more serious than previously reported.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said on Friday it has begun injecting freshwater into the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor cores in an attempt to enhance cooling, even while highly radioactive water has been found leaking from the No. 2 reactor and possibly No. 1 and No. 3, Kyodo News reports.
Freshwater is now being used after fears of previous injections of seawater may have caused crystallized salt to form on the fuel rods, inhibiting water circulation and diminishing the cooling effect. TEPCO is also preparing to inject freshwater into the No. 2 reactor core.
The news comes a day after three workers were exposed to water at the turbine building of the No. 3 reactor that contained radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level.
In a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation at Daiichi “still does not warrant optimism,” according to Kyodo News.
The increased levels of radioactivity are now believed to be impacting workers’ abilities to restore the crippled facility’s cooling capabilities, essential to overcoming the disaster.
After the three workers were confirmed to have been exposed to high levels of radiation contamination on Thursday, the government’s nuclear safety agency had denied any possibility of damage to the No. 3 reactor vessel, stating data on the pressure level did not suggest the reactor vessel was cracked or damaged, Kyodo News notes.
“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant,” Kan added, according to the Associated Press. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care,”
The suspected breach at the No. 3 reactor could be a hole or crack in the reactor core’s stainless steel chamber or in several feet of concrete lining the spent fuel pool. Internal core temperatures and pressure reading remain stable, according to AP.
TEPCO executive vice presice Sakae Muto said: “There were problems regarding radiation management. We will strengthen management further,” according to Kyodo News. TEPCO reports that in addition to the freshwater injections at No. 1 and No. 3, it has injected more seawater into the spent fuel pools at the No. 2 and No. 4 reactors, with assistance on Friday from the Kawasaki Fire Department.
The government has recommended residents within 20 to 30 km of the plant leave voluntarily, as access to daily necessities begin to dwindle.
The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research has stated the radioactive iodine released at Daiichi may have already exceeded the Three Mile Island incident in the US by 100,000 times.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the IEER, on Friday said: "This accident has long since passed the level of Three Mile Island. While the releases are still considerably below Chernobyl, they have already reached a level that could affect the region around the site for a prolonged period. It is simply a fantasy and highly misleading for the official accident level to remain at level 5, given the estimated radioactivity releases and the extended evacuation, contamination of food and water, and other countermeasures that have already been ordered by the government," according to an IEER press release.
The most recent news comes after reports on Thursday revealed TEPCO ignored mandatory safety checks during a 10-year period preceding the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.