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Japanese Plant's Plutonium Containment Vessel May Have Ruptured


Japanese Self-Defense Force officers in radiation-protection suits hold a blue sheet over patients who were exposed to high levels of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant as they are transferred to a hospital on March 25.

Japanese Self-Defense Force officers in radiation-protection suits hold a blue sheet over patients who were exposed to high levels of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant as they are transferred to a hospital on March 25.

The operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant has admitted there may be damage to the protective containment vessel around the most dangerous fuel rods in the complex -- the plutonium fuel rods in reactor No. 3.

The admission comes after Japan's government announced that workers who suffered burns while trying to cool the crippled No. 3 reactor were exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than expected.

The evidence has raised fears that the crucial containment vessel had, indeed, ruptured in the 9.0 magnitude earthquake of March 11 or subsequent explosions after a tsunami knocked out the cooling systems of the six reactors there.

Officials have previously said that small explosions at the reactor could have damaged it, but the high seepage of radiation could imply worse damage than previously believed.

Nevertheless, there are conflicting views on the source of high radiation A Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official, Hidehiko Nishiyama, said the radiation could be leakage from pipes or valves during venting operations.

Nishiyama said there was "no data suggesting a crack" in the containment vessel.

"Currently, there is a high possibility that the third reactor's fuel rods are damaged and that is where we think [the radioactive water] came from," he said.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami alone topped 10,000 today -- and there is little hope of finding alive another 17,500 people listed as missing.

compiled from agency reports
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