A man shops for fish at a Tokyo market. The detection of cobalt, iodine and… (Tomohiro Ohsumi, Bloomberg )
TOKYO — Radioactivity levels are soaring in seawater near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan's nuclear safety agency said Saturday, two weeks after the nuclear power plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Even as engineers tried to pump puddles of radioactive water from the power plant 150 miles north of Tokyo, the nuclear safety agency said tests Friday showed radioactive iodine had spiked 1,250 times higher than normal in the seawater just offshore from the plant.
Officials said iodine 131 levels in seawater 19 miles from the coastal nuclear complex were within acceptable limits established by regulations and the contamination posed little risk to aquatic life.
"Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and seaweed," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior official from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Despite that reassurance, the disclosure may well heighten international concern over Japanese seafood exports. Several countries have already banned milk and produce from areas around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while others have been monitoring Japanese seafood.
The prolonged efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the plant have also intensified concerns around the world about nuclear power. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.
Radioactive water was found in buildings housing three of the six reactors at the crippled plant. On Thursday, three workers sustained burns at reactor No. 3 after being exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than usually found in a reactor.
The crisis at the nuclear plant has overshadowed the massive relief and recovery effort from the magnitude 9.0 quake and huge tsunami that hit March 11 and left more than 27,500 people dead or missing in northeast Japan.