Fears for food supply as radioactive water pours from stricken reactor

Contaminated samples increase tensions and lead to import bans

Radioactive water was pouring from a damaged reactor at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last night, with officials warning it will soon reach the sea. The contaminated samples were found outside the reactor building for the first time, causing concern that soil and sea in the surrounding area will be poisoned.

Efforts to contain the crisis at the stricken complex, which was hit by a massive earthquake and towering tsunami earlier this month, have been hampered by repeated setbacks.

The crisis has begun to fray relations between the embattled government and the power utility widely blamed for creating confusion over the real extent of the crisis. That confusion has spurred import bans on Japanese products abroad, the flight of some 160,000 foreigners from Tokyo, an embargo on food from the affected region and a global debate on the future of the nuclear industry.

Japan's energy giant Tepco was yesterday accused by the government of making "unforgivable mistakes" in its handling of the country's worsening crisis, after releasing startlingly high radiation figures which it later retracted. "This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven," said government spokesman Yukio Edano.

Tepco's vice-president, Sakae Muto, promised to "do better" after company officials sent their own workers fleeing from the plant on Sunday when they reported radiation levels 10 million times higher than normal. The figure turned out to be a miscalculation.

Several foreign energy firms said yesterday that they had been contacted by Tepco, asking for help in bringing the situation under control. Électricité de France (EDF) and Areva both confirmed that they had received contact. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said over the weekend that the crisis could take months rather than weeks to resolve.

Japan's government has been accused of allowing an incestuous relationship to develop with power giant Tepco to the detriment of safety standards. Senior government figures have become accustomed to lucrative posts in the energy sector on retiring from public life and criticism of companies like Tepco has consequently been muted.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a retired nuclear engineer who had worked on the Fukushima reactors, said the "nuclear village" in which public officials, academics and power company employees avoided criticising each other had created a dangerous consensus which had made the industry less accountable.

Influential nuclear critic and MP, Taro Kono, went further, suggesting the power lobby's influence on the media, where it is among the country's leading advertisers, had insulated it from proper inspection. "The power industry is one of the largest spenders so media can't criticise it," he said.

Meanwhile, Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission took another step towards admitting that one of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had been breached. But it once again stopped short of confirming whether the breach was in the primary containment vessel where the nuclear fuel is stored – this would be the precursor to a full meltdown and a more serious situation.

Radioactive sea water has been detected more than a mile from the plant but the government has dismissed concerns over fishing, saying the exclusion zone prohibits vessels from working near the nuclear complex.

The plant's operators have been hamstrung by the need to pump seawater and fresh water into the plant to avert a meltdown and now need to dry it out before power to the cooling system can be repaired and restored.

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water sprayed on to the damaged reactors since 11 March have become "highly radioactive". It is preventing workers from approaching the units to carry out other vital work.

With the spectre of a potential nuclear meltdown 150 miles away, the official blossoming of Tokyo's cherry trees was met with muted celebrations yesterday. The normally joyous occasion, which marks the blossom appearing at the capital's Yasukuni shrine, was overwhelmed by the news that the death toll from the 11 March disaster has climbed above 11,000, with more than 17,339 missing and 170,000 people living in temporary shelters.

Recovery efforts along the 90 miles of blighted coast were further hampered by a strong aftershock yesterday morning registering 6.5 on the Richter scale and prompting a short-lived tsunami warning.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A daily miscellany of general election facts, figures, trivia and traditions
voicesThere's still time for someone to do something to make us care
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
news
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
sportAll the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
News
Tepper had a stunningly successful career as a songwriter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Len Blavatnik
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions