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Japanese PM Signals 'Maximum Alert' Over Fukushima Nuke Crisis

Japanese PM Signals 'Maximum Alert' Over Fukushima Nuke Crisis

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said his government is in a state of maximum alert over high-level radiation leaked from the quake-wrecked nuclear power plant in the country's northeast.

Speaking at the House of Councilors Budget Committee on Tuesday, Kan said the situation at the plant "continues to be unpredictable" and that the government "will tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert."

He gave the assurance to the parliamentary committee after traces of radioactive water as well as highly toxic plutonium were detected outside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Kan told the House that he planned to present a quake-relief budget by the end of April, and proposed a possible tax hike as the government struggled to secure funds.

Kan said he would be seeking advice from nuclear experts if it was necessary to extend the evacuation zone around the plant.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said they had detected seepage of radioactive water in the tunnel linked to the plant's reactor number 2 on Monday. Although the tunnel is only about 55 meters from the shore, TEPCO insisted that there was no evidence that the contaminated water had reached the sea.

It later admitted that traces of highly toxic plutonium, a byproduct of atomic reactions and also used in making nuclear bombs, have also been found in soil at five locations at the plant.

Claiming that the traces of plutonium found outside the reactor buildings were too small to threaten human health, the company stressed that the discovery would not suspend the ongoing efforts at the plant to avert a nuclear meltdown.

Experts suspect that leakage of plutonium may have been from the spent fuel rod storage at the plant or from reactor number 3, the only one among the plant's six reactors to use plutonium as fuel.

Meanwhile, the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said radioactive water that had been filling up underground trenches of the plant had not been confirmed to have overflowed into the Pacific Ocean.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters that the situation at Fukushima was very serious, and said that the government was doing its best to control the damage.

Engineers are battling to restore power and restart the cooling systems at the power station, which was shut down following radiation leak caused by explosions and fires triggered by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Several countries, including the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, China and Australia, have banned food imports from radiation-hit areas of Japan.

Japan has already suspended exports of milk, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and turnips after the nuclear plant, located 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, released radioactive materials.

Japanese government estimates that it would cost up to 25 trillion yen ($309 billion) to reconstruct the country ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing across a swath of northern Japan.

by RTT Staff Writer

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