From: Chizu Nomiyama and Kazunori Takada, Reuters, TOKYO
Published March 29, 2011 07:00 AM

Plutonium found in soil at Japanese nuclear plant disaster

Plutonium found in soil at the Fukushima nuclear complex heightened alarm on Tuesday over Japan's battle to contain the world's worst atomic crisis in 25 years, as pressure mounted on the prime minister to widen an evacuation zone around the plant.

Some opposition lawmakers blasted Naoto Kan in parliament for his handling of the disaster and for not widening the exclusion zone. Kan said he was seeking advice on such a step, which would force 130,000 people to move in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

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The drama at the six-reactor facility has compounded Japan's agony after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 left more than 28,000 people dead or missing in the devastated northeast.

In a gesture of support, France said it had sent two nuclear experts to Japan to help contain the accident and Japan's foreign ministry said French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit on Thursday for a meeting with Kan.

France relies heavily on nuclear power generation and Sarkozy will be the first foreign leader to visit since the earthquake.

In the latest blow to hopes authorities were gradually getting the plant under control, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in two out of five soil samples at the facility.

A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say.

They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix.

Photo shows the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, March 27, 2011.

Credit: REUTERS/Japan Ground Self-Defence Force via Kyodo

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/29/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110329

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