Nuclear plant was storing too much spent fuel as tsunami hit

A Japanese radiation expert has claimed that life just one kilometre outside the restricted area surrounding the stricken nuclear plant leaking radiation is "as safe as London".

In the latest proclamation by officials trying to reassure people that they face minimal danger from the nuclear crisis a government adviser said the public had been misled by inaccurate information.

But it came amid more sinister news as it emerged that the plant had contained far more spent fuel rods than it was designed to store, while its technicians failed to carry out the necessary safety checks, according to documents from the reactor's operator.

Despite hopes of progress in the world's most major nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said it needed more time before it could say the reactors were stabilised. The documents also showed that the the company repeatedly missed safety checks over a 10-year period up to two weeks before the 11 March disaster, and allowed uranium fuel rods to pile up inside the 40-year-old facility.

Yesterday smoke and steam were seen rising from two of the most threatening reactors, two and three, whilst several blasts of steam are thought to probably have released a small amount of radioactive particles.

The news is likely to aggrieve the public, especially in the wake of claims earlier in the day from a Japanese radiation expert that life just 1km outside the restricted area surrounding the stricken nuclear plant leaking radiation is "as safe as London".

"The people we should worry about are those working at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Otherwise we do not have to worry about exposure," said Professor Shunichi Yamashita.

Professor Yamashita, from Nagasaki University, said radiation in Tokyo was minuscule and being hyped needlessly by the media: "We're talking about microsieverts [SI unit of radiation] a year not millisieverts," he said. "The dose is crucial. It's nonsense to worry about microsieverts."

Concerns about radiation in Tokyo have prompted thousands of foreigners and Japanese citizens to leave. Many businesses have relocated to the west of Japan or Hong Kong. The latest radiation reading over 24 hours was 0.34 microsieverts though the figure is increasing slightly. Yesterday the professor said exposure to 11.4 microsieverts per hour was the safety benchmark.

Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency found radiation 1,600 times higher than normal around the town of Namie, near Fukushima. But Professor Yamashita said at a briefing in Tokyo: "People who evacuated from the 20km zone are completely safe." Japan's Prime Minister last week advised 140,000 people living within between 20km and 30km of the complex to leave. Many have criticised the perimeter as arbitrary. The US government says 80km is the safe limit.

Professor Yamashita said most radiation-linked illnesses in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, including thyroid cancer, came not from direct exposure but from consuming food, especially contaminated milk. "Compared to Chernobyl the Fukushima radiation release is still very, very low," he said. "I want the media to make this clear."

Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster, has been linked to thousands of thyroid cancer cases since the plant in Ukraine went into meltdown.

The Japanese government has imposed a ban on food products from Fukushima and surrounding areas. Small quantities of radiation have been detected in spinach and milk. The government has also begun studying contamination of fish food after discovering radioactive materials 128 times higher than the legal limit in the seas around the plant.It was reported yesterday that minuscule amounts of radioactive particles believed to have come from the Fukushima power plant had been detected as far away as Iceland.

For those people who have been evacuated from the danger zone near the nuclear plant, these are days of anxiety. Around 1,400 people are living in the town's gymnasium which has been turned into an evacuation centre, and yesterday there were long queues for bowls of hot noodle soup. As many as 2.4 million people are still without water and nearly 250,000 households have no power.

Profiting from the doom

The huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through north-eastern Japan 11 days ago has led to lots of stories of stoicism and pulling together. But not in every case.

Police said the disaster crippled a bank's security mechanisms and left a safe wide open. That allowed someone to walk off with ¥40m, about £300,000.

The tsunami washed over the Shinkin Bank, like much else in Kesennuma in Japan's north-east region, and police said that with the combination of the flooding and the ensuing power outages the vault came open.

"The bank was flooded and things were thrown all over. It was a total mess. Somebody stole the money in the midst of the chaos," a police official in the Miyagi region said.

The bank notified police yesterday when the theft was discovered. AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick