Residents on Edge of Evacuation Zone Return Home
In Japan, some residents of one city in the Fukushima evacuation zone are being allowed to return home.  More than 300 people from one district in the northeastern city of Tamura were forced to evacuate following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that destroyed a nuclear reactor. Tamura is about 12 miles from the plant, right on the edge of the radioactive zone. With more on their homecoming, here’s Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
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Reporter:
People in the neighborhood had to leave their homes right after the accident three years ago. But government officials found that radiation levels were relatively low. So workers could contaminate the area before other parts of the evacuation zone around the plant. But most evacuees from the area say they don’t plan to return home in the near future. Some of them are worried there may still be pockets of high radiation. Hideyuki Tsuboi says his parents will return home. Tsuboi, his wife, and their three young daughters will stay in temporary housing in another part of Tamura.

Hideyuki Tsuboi:
It’s our responsibility as parents to ensure a safe life for children. That’s the main reason we decided not to go back.

Reporter:
Government officials plan to give dosimeters to people moving back to the neighborhood.  More than 80,000 people from the evacuation zone still can’t return home.

The government is in charge of removing radioactive substances from the evacuation zone around the nuclear plant. The area includes  all or parts of 11 cities, towns and villages. But the cleanup effort doesn’t include a zone with high radiation.  As we mentioned earlier, officials on Tuesday lifted the evacuation order for the city of Tamura. Environment minister Nobuteru Ishihara says the government also  finished clean up work in two other towns and a village on schedule.

Nobuteru Ishihara:
We will continue monitoring radiation levels to  confirm that the effect of the decontamination work lasts. We will do our best to rebuild those areas We will also do all we can to speed up decontamination of other areas to complete the work on time.
 
 

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Fukushima's Displaced: Life After 3/11

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami flooded the Fukushima Daiichi power facility, and caused a nuclear meltdown at three of its reactors. Since then workers have been scrambling to store the massive amounts of radioactive water, well over 90 million gallons, and keep it from leaking into the ocean.


At least 18,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tsunami. And more than 270,000 people were displaced by the disaster. Efforts to rebuild homes will take years. That situation is especially complicated in Fukushima, where people have been dealing with damage from the tsunami as well as the effects of the nuclear crisis. And three years later, people in the region are still waiting to learn when and if they'll ever be able to return home to restart their lives. In the meantime, they're stuck in temporary housing. With more on how they're getting by, here's Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.

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Reporter:

One of the few pleasures Soiichi Saitou enjoys these days is spending time with his dog.


Souichi Saitou:

I walk my dog every morning and evening. That helps me more than anything. I don't have to think about anything when I'm with you right?


Reporter:

Saito tries not to dwell much on how life used to be in his hometown Futaba. His family farmed there for more than 500 years. They were particularly proud of their spinach. It won prizes for its high quality. Saito did worry about one thing, his house and field were about three kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. He was concerned that an accident could occur at the plant, particularly that it could be hit by a tsunami. His worst fears came true. He remembers the repeated discussions he had with staff from the nuclear plant.


Souichi Saitou:

I had asked the plant's operator over the decades to protect the plant against tsunamis. They just laughed and said that kind of accident would never happen.


Reporter:

The nuclear accident forced Saitou and other residents to flee. He now lives in another city about 40 kilometers away.


These temporary houses were built as a quick fix solution, but about three years later, they still serve as the main residence of evacuees. Saitou shares a small unit with his wife and his mother. They say the idleness of living in temporary housing has weakened them physically and mentally. They miss the days when they worked hour after hour in the fields. But their hometown is still off limits because of high radiation. Residents need special permission to go back. This footage was taken when Saitou visited his house about a year after the disaster. He was able to stay for only a few hours. He was devastated by what he saw. His spinach greenhouses were overgrown with weeds. And rats had invaded his home. Still, Saitou did not give up hope that someday he would return. But last year he received another shock. The government announced a plan to build a storage facility for nuclear waste in Saitou's home town. His property is on the proposed site. The facility would hold radioactive soil collected from areas across northeastern Japan for 30 years. Saitou knows if that plan goes through, he'll never return to Futaba.


Souichi Saitou:

I remember my hometown and I wonder why were we forced to leave? Why do we have to be here? I want the government to decontaminate our land and save our community no matter how long it takes.


Reporter:

Many evacuees are still living in limbo three years after the disaster. Saitou is still hanging on to the hope that he'll be able to return to his house and farm, a hope that he knows is growing more distant by the day.     

 
 

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Nuclear Comeback in Energy Policy

TEPCOIn Japan, government officials are moving ahead with plans to revive nuclear power. Prior to the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi meltdown, 30% of the country's electricity was generated by more than 50 commercial reactors. Previous leaders had vowed to phase nuclear out, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a new policy redefining it as an important energy source. Here's NHK with more.

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Toshimitsu Motehi, Japanese Industry Minister:

We will figure out how much nuclear power we need and we will secure that amount.


Reporter:

The draft document adopted by a group of cabinet ministers endorses a major change in Japan’s energy policy. The nuclear accident in Fukushima 3 years ago triggered a nationwide debate over nuclear power. The ruling party at that time promises to phase-out nuclear energy within 30 years. Shinzo Abe’s return to power in the December 2012 election changed the situation. The Prime Minister called elimination of nuclear power irresponsible.


The draft energy policy adopted on Tuesday says the government will re-start the reactors once they clear the latest safety regulations.


The document also underlines the need to learn from the nuclear accident and the importance of safety. But some people question whether it is really safe to resumes operations at nuclear power plants.

Among them, the governor of Niigata. His prefecture hosts the world largest nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.


Hirohiko Izumida, Niigata Governor:

TEPCO hasn't learned from the Fukushima accident. It's not qualified to operate nuclear plants.


Reporter:

Paul Scalise is an expert on Japan’s energy policy. He explains the rationale behind the government renewed  emphasis on nuclear power.


Paul Scalise/ Research Fellow, Temple University:

You have Japan's very precarious lack of natural resources and the hope that by moving away from fossil fuels like imported gas, oil, and coal, you can avoid very disrupted shocks to both electricity prices as well as gas prices that took place in the 1970s.


Reporter:

Scalise said the energy policy will be welcomed by the business community. But he adds the utilities and the government needs to display more transparency in order to convince the general public. 

 
 

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Secrecy Bill Debacle Weakens Japanese Prime Minister's Support

Shinzo AbeJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is nearing the end of his first year in office. Following a landslide victory in 2012, Abe launched a number of policies to promote economic recovery. He also moved to revise the country's pacifist constitution to allow the military use of force. And the recent passage of a secrecy bill is Abe's latest move to boost Japan's defense capabilities. But do Japanese approve of this direction? A recent NHK poll suggests his popularity is the lowest it's been since he was elected.

Reporter:
Our interviewers spoke to more than 1,000 people by phone. Fifty percent said they support Abe's cabinet, a drop of 10 percentage points from last month. Thirty-five percent said they don't. Our poll asked for feedback on the new secrecy law. Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner approved last. The law gives the government more power to decide what people can and can't know. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they disapprove of the law. Thirty-two percent said they approve of it. Fifty-nine percent said the discussion over the bill by Diet members wasn't sufficient. Eight percent said lawmakers had a thorough discussion. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they are worried the law may infringe on the public's right to know. Abe spoke on Monday and addressed the criticism over the new law.

Shinzo Abe:
I sincerely recognize the citizens' severe criticism as a reprimand. I should have taken more time to explain the bill. But the problem lies in the fact that we lack rules to decide what constitutes a secret and how to keep secrets classified.

 

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FukushimaDespite his poor poll numbers, Abe's going ahead with plans to strengthen Japan's military. His cabinet is expected to approve a plan to deploy more war planes and unmanned drones in the country's southwest. They'd be stationed closer to the islands that Japan's disputing with China. The defense review also calls for setting up an amphibious force to take back any islands occupied by a foreign country. The review makes no secret that the build-up is designed to counter China's growing presence in the East China Sea. Abe's cabinet is expected to approve the defense review in a few days.

And three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster people in the area still fear the risk of cancer and other illnesses caused by consuming contaminated radioactive food and drink. Produce, meat, milk and fish from the affected areas are known to be contaminated. Since 2011, more than 300,000 people in the prefecture have been tested for internal contamination using a device called the whole body counter. But until recently, the scanning machine was too large for infants, who are the most vulnerable to radiation exposure. In response to this problem, scientists developed a new testing device for babies. Once again, here's NHK.

Reporter:
Tests for radiation exposure for infants began at a hospital in Hirata village. Over 30 families showed up for the test.

Parent:
I have been so worried. I've been waiting a long time for my baby to be checked.

Parent:
I don't know what will happen when my baby grows up. So I'd like this checkup.

Reporter:
Yumi Takahara lives 80 kilometers from the nuclear plant. She has long been worried about the effects of the radiation on her three daughters. Manami, the youngest, is six months old.

Yumi Takahara:
I'd feel safer if my baby were checked at a younger age.

Reporter:
This new device is called Baby Scan. It measures the internal radiation level of an infant placed inside it. Infants undergoing the radiation check are placed in this compartment where they remain for four minutes. The machine has a relatively wide opening and children can watch their parents during the checkup, which helps them stay relaxed. Professor Ryugo Hayano of the University of Tokyo headed the research team that developed the scanner. He says the main challenge was to make it as precise as possible.

Professor Ryugo Hayano:
Even though the baby, or the children, are eating the same amount of radioactive cesium as compared to parents, the amount of radioactive cesium accumulated in the body will be much less. In order to quantify the amount of radioactive cesium in the body, it doesn't make sense to measure with the same detection limit that is used for adults.

Reporter:
The machine makes meticulous calculations and is designed to block as much external radiation as possible. It has four radiation sensors, twice as many as previous models. Takahara was anxious to hear the results of the scan. Manami was put into the machine. She cried a bit because she had to be away from her mother for several minutes. But her body was successfully measured and the examination was completed. The results came in minutes later.

Healthcare employee:
No cesium is detected.

Yumi Takahara:
We have been eating a variety of foods, so that was my main concern. I am very relieved to hear this positive result.

Reporter:
A thousand people have already made appointments to have their children examined. Thanks to this machine, those most vulnerable to radiation, infants, are finally beginning to get the protection they need.

 
 

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Japan: Crews Start Process of Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods
FukushimaThe 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, causing catastrophic damage to the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. The outcome was a meltdown of the plant's number four reactor, causing an environmental disaster not seen since Chernobyl. Now, after two years of careful planning, crews are ready to start the delicate process of removing the reactor's roughly 1500 fuel rods. Once again, here's NHK.

Reporter:
The media entered the Fukushima-Daiichi plant on Wednesday to see the number four reactor building. The building contains more than 1500 fuel units. Most of them have been used. They're extremely hot, highly radioactive, and experts say they need to be kept cool for 30-40 years. The rods are stored in a pool about 20 meters above ground, the water traps radiation and keeps the rods cool. But a hydrogen explosion in 2011 weakened the building's structure. Experts say the rods must be moved to a safer place. Managers of Tokyo Electric Power Company have been preparing to start the job for the last two-and-a-half years. They planned to lift the rods out with a crane, but the building was too weak to support it. So workers built a steel frame. They will transfer the rods to containers that can seal in radiation. They will then move these to a storage facility within the compound and put them back into water. The job is far from straightforward. The workers have to maneuver the rods underwater to prevent any radiation from escaping. And they will have to cope with the high levels of radiation, up to 200 Microsieverts per hour.

Akira Ono:
The working environment here is more difficult and stressful than usual. Therefore, I want to devote every effort to safely transfer all the fuel rods.

Reporter:
TEPCO officials say it will take more than a year to remove all the rods from reactor number four. Then they will have to do it all over again at the three other reactors. They haven't said when they expect to finish. The operation will start this month. It's the latest hurdle in the long process of decommissioning the plant, a project that's expected to take up to 40 years.
 
 

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Japan: Heavy Rains Fall on Fukushima, Become Radioactive
In Japan, the weather's making an environmental disaster worse. Heavy rains from recent typhoons fell on the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima. Some of the rainwater became radioactive. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK with the story.

Reporter:
Workers at Fukushima-Daiichi have been struggling for months with leaks of contaminated water. Now they're dealing with another problem -- rain. They saw a heavy downpour last week during a typhoon. And on Sunday, another storm brought more than 100 millimeters of rain. All that water built up inside barriers surrounding tanks that store contaminated water. Workers discovered it had flowed over the barriers at 11 spots. In six areas, they detected levels of radioactive strontium above the government's safety limits. The highest rating was more than 70 times the standard. Now the workers are trying to find out whether some of the water flowed through ditches and into the Pacific Ocean. The barriers are designed to contain any tainted water that leaks from the tanks. The ones that fitted with drainage pipes. Initially, whenever it rained, workers opened the pipes to discharge rainwater. But in August, they found that 300 tones of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the tanks. It traveled through a pipe to the area beyond the barrier. Workers decided to shut off all the pipes and pump out any water that collected inside the containment area. They now check the pumped out water for radioactivity to ensure it meets government's standards. Heavy rains are making that job a lot harder. Managers plan to install more pumps around the tank to make sure they can deal with any amount of water. They say they don't want to get caught out the next time a storm hits.
 
 

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Japan: Typhoon Wipha Hinders Fukushima Clean Up Effort
Typhoon WiphaOctober has been marked by awful weather all the way up Asia's Pacific coast, from Vietnam to Korea. What meteorologists had called "the storm of the decade" roared over eastern Japan at mid-week. Typhoon Wipha killed at least twenty people. Its winds, heavy rain, and tide surge hit land south of the capital Tokyo, and moved up the coast  brushing past the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima. Japanese public broadcaster NHK provided this report from the scene:

Reporter:
Typhoon Wipha left a trail of destruction on Izu Oshima, one that stretches on and on. The islands' residents have never seen this much rain. More than 800 millimeters fell in 24 hours. That's more than double the average rainfall for October, and the heaviest downpour on record. It was too much for some areas to absorb.

Izu Oshima, resident:
That hillside over there collapsed. The area behind that house is completely gone.

Reporter:
Wipha remained powerful in the Tokyo metropolitan area too. It knocked down trees and cut power to thousands of homes. Residents woke up to howling winds and driving rain. Many found transportation disruptive just as they were heading to work.

Tokyo commuter:
The Shinkansen bullet train was delayed and the local line was also delayed. So I was late for work.

Tokyo Commuter:
I have to cancel my business meeting this morning.

Reporter:
The typhoon caused disruption throughout the region. Airlines cancelled more than 500 flights. Rail companies reduced bullet trains and local train services. Subway operators scaled back their schedules. By the afternoon, things were back to normal on many lines. And the storm weakened later in the day as it headed north. Now, those who felt its wrath are cleaning up. The full scale of the damage is not yet known. Rescuers are looking for the missing. Officials for the meteorological agency are warning people to be cautious. They say more landslides are possible.

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Wipha passed a little east of the stricken nuclear facility in Fukushima. It did not appear to further damage the reactors. But torrential rain -- as much as five inches in less than six hours -- filled containment areas surrounding hundreds of tanks used to store radioactive fluid. Some of the rainwater became slightly contaminated. Broadcaster NHK has the details:

Reporter:
Tokyo Electric Power Company officials say the rainwater had accumulated inside barriers surrounding tanks that are used to store contaminated water. They say it cleared standards set by the nuclear regulation authority for release into the sea. So they let it flow out of the barriers from nine locations. Workers made an emergency transfer of rainwater that had accumulated at two other locations because they suspected it was highly radioactive. They pumped it into an underground storage pool and will leave it there temporarily. Hundreds of tons of contaminated water builds up every day at Fukushima Daiichi and crews must store it. Heavy rain creates more work. After a storm earlier this month plant managers had additional storage tanks built and increased patrols to stop contaminated water from escaping. Tainted rainwater flowed over barriers at the time and seeped out of an overfilled tank.

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The Japanese government is tired of bad news about glitches and accidents. So it's asking a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency to tell it what to do next. NHK has more:

Reporter:
The team will stay for a week. Leader Juan Carlos Lentijo says the effect of reduction of radiation levels and the disposal of contaminated soil are key to restoring the environment. Lentijo brought an IAEA team to Japan two years ago before full scale decontamination work began around Fukushima-Daiichi. The experts advised the government to focus on areas with higher radiation levels first rather than to try to clean up all areas. They said that would generate unnecessarily large volumes of tainted soil. The team plans to submit another report to the government next Monday.

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The IAEA is also going to help Japan monitor radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean that borders the stricken nuclear plant. And it's asked South Korea to take part in that effort. The reason: to reassure Koreans that fish from Fukushima and other parts of Japan are safe to eat. Here's NHK again:

Reporter:
Foreign minister Yun Byung-Se briefed parliament on the testing. South Koreans and people in other nations have been worried about the ongoing leak of contaminated water from the Fukushima facility. Leaders in Seoul imposed a ban on the import of fishery products from Fukushima and seven other prefectures saying they were responding to concerns among consumers. Their counterparts in Tokyo have been asking for the ban to be lifted. They argue the decision lacks scientific evidence.
 
 

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Weekly Roundup of News from Japan's NHK World NEWSLINE
Thuy Vu:
The latest crisis at Japan's crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant: Officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company announced another leak of highly radioactive water. Six workers were exposed to radioactive liquid. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, filed this report on the radiation leak on October 9th.

Reporter:
Tokyo Electric Power Company says workers mistakenly disconnected the pipe carrying radioactive water. This caused toxic wastewater to wet six of eleven workers, spraying radioactive substances onto their skin. TEPCO staff are now checking their exposure level. Company officials say the water continued leaking for about one hour. They say some seven tons of spilled water is presently being contained. It is highly radioactive at about 34 million Becquerel's of beta ray-emitting material per liter. Human error has caused a string of recent mishaps at the Fukushima plant.

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Shinzo AbeThuy Vu:
Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, spent time at this week's summits talking defense. Japan, like four other Southeast Asian nations, has a territorial dispute with China. And Abe told Indonesia's president that Japan is going to take a more active role in the region's security problems. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported on the summit on October 8th.

Reporter:
Abe told President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that Japanese officials will play a more active role in maintaining peace and stability. He referred to China's presence in the South China Sea. Chinese leaders have been arguing with their counterparts from other nations over the sovereignty of various islands. Abe offered to help those leaders deal with their territorial disputes. Yudhoyono agreed they need to draw up a maritime code of conduct to insure the rule of law.

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Thuy Vu:
An animal on the list of critically endangered species has been captured on video. The Sumatran rhinoceros was thought to be extinct in Indonesia. And this is the first time in decades that conservationists have recorded one. Decades of poaching and deforestation have reduced the number of Sumatran rhinos left in the wild to less than 300. Japan's NHK covered the story on October 8th.

Reporter:
The rhinos are native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, but locals cut away at the forest in which they lived. And poachers harvested their horns for use in Chinese medicine. So their population declined drastically. Specialists with the World Wildlife Fund and local officials installed cameras in 16 locations to try to catch one on camera. They were delighted with their success. A WWF official says they hope to work with authorities to ensure that measures are in place to protect the animal.
 
 

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Japan to Fukushima Residents: You Can't Go Home Again
Nuclear RadiationJapan paused on Wednesday to mark the earthquake and tsunami that struck 30 months ago. The disaster killed at least 1,600 people. About 300,000 people are still displaced, their homes in shambles. On September 11th, Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, took a look at where the rebuilding efforts stand two and a half years later.

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Reporter:
People in the City of Natori gathered in front of a monument to those who died. The tsunami washed away many houses in their community. Construction workers in the city of Iwanuma also offered prayer. They're preparing land on higher ground for about 350 new homes. The first batch of land will be ready for construction by the end of the year.

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At least 160,000 people still can't go home because of radiation. It spewed over the region around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The plant was seriously damaged by the quake and tsunami. Three reactors melted down and the owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, has been unable to make much progress on decommissioning the facility. In this second report, NHK looks at the status of these internally displaced persons.

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Reporter:
Nine months after the accident the Japanese government said the situation at the reactor was under control. Government leaders and TEPCO executives unveiled together a roadmap for decommissioning the reactors within three to four decades. But progress has been hampered by several serious problems. One of the most challenging so far has been the leakage of contaminated water. TEPCO officials admitted lin July that some of the toxic water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Masayuki Ono, TEPCO official:
We sincerely apologize for causing concern to so many people, particularly those who live in Fukushima.

Reporter:
TEPCO officials estimate that every day 800 tons of water coming from nearby mountains runs under the nuclear complex. Some of it becomes contaminated and reaches the sea. A portion of the water flows into the basement of the damaged buildings. There, it mixes with water used to cool the reactor cores. Workers have to pump out 400 tons of highly toxic liquid every day and store it on-site. TEPCO workers have so far built 1,000 tanks to store the excess water. But some of these containers have been leaking. In August 300 tons of highly contaminated water escaped from a tank. Workers have identified several other leaks since then. The scale of the problem led Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide on government intervention.

Shinzo Abe:
The government will work in a coordinated way as the world is closely watching whether Japan can successfully solve the problems at the plant and decommission the reactors.

Reporter: The government plans to isolate the plant behind an underground wall of ice. The first step will be to bury a network of pipes around the buildings. Coolant at a temperature of minus 40 degrees Celsius will be passed through the pipes. This will freeze the soil, preventing water from seeping into and out of the complex. But experts say it's unclear whether this method will succeed. It has yet to be tested for this specific purpose, and it's never been used on such a large scale. The governments of China and South Korea have expressed serious concerns about the impact of the leakage on the ocean. And now, government officials in Japan feat this problem could delay the entire decommissioning process.
 
 

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Japan's New Fukushima Plan: Freeze Radioactive Water
Fukushima-DaiichiThe situation at the stricken nuclear reactors at Fukushima keeps getting worse. Earlier this week, Japan's nuclear regulatory agency said radiation levels around the plant are spiking. In some "hot spots", they are high enough to kill. Radioactive water -- about 400 tons so far -- is leaking from hundreds of storage tanks. The tanks hold water that's flushed through the reactor core to keep it cool. It then becomes contaminated. In the latest plan to stop the leaks, Japan's government has approved a 470 million dollar plan to freeze the ground around the reactors to prevent radioactive water from seeping out into the Pacific. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, has the details in this report.

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Reporter:
Right now about 400 tons of groundwater is leaking into basements of the damaged reactor every day. And it's being tainted with radioactive substances. That water is being pumped out and stored in tanks. The government plans to use the funds to decontaminate the water and freeze the soil around the buildings to prevent groundwater from seeping into the basements.

Shinzo Abe:
We've drawn up a basic plan to achieve a fundamental solution to the problem of radioactive water. Instead of reacting to each new problem as it comes up.

Reporter:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledge his administration will make an all out effort to successfully resolve the situation at Fukushima-Daiichi. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiro Suga has been tasked with leading a panel of government ministers to oversee work at the plant. Other government officials will be stationed near the site to improve communications with workers and with the people in charge of the plant.
 
 

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