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Workers Evacuated After Radiation Rises In Japanese Reactor

Radiation at 10 million times the normal level has been detected close to the plant
Reports from Japan say workers have been evacuated from a reactor at the earthquake- and tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power station after very high levels of radiation were detected.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant's operator, is quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying radiation 10 million times the normal level has been detected in water that had accumulated at the Number 2 reactor's turbine housing unit.

The company later said the figure was erroneous but still very high and enough to evacuate workers.

In another development, authorities say levels of radioactive iodine detected in the sea near the power station have now risen to 1,850 times above normal.

Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama could offer little consolation at a news conference in Tokyo on March 27 when he spoke about the rising radiation levels in the sea.

"I made the same comment when the level was 1,250 times, but, at 1,850 times, of course the level is better if it is lower and I do realize that it's not good for the level to rise," Nishiyama said. "But at the current level, there is not much difference [in terms of effect] between these two levels."

Japanese health officials are stressing that the sea around Fukushima is not a fishing area. During the news conference, Nishiyama said that since seafood does not come from that region the contamination posed no threat to human health.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano has called the accident at Fukushima "very serious by any standards" and said "it is not over yet."

Specialists are estimating that in the best-case scenario it would be weeks before workers are able to bring radiation levels down. They then face the task of clean-up and the likely encasing of all or parts of the plant in concrete.

10,000 Dead

The accident at the Fukushima plant was triggered by the 9.0 earthquake that hit the area on March 11, causing a tsunami that flooded huge areas of northeastern Japan, including parts of the Fukushima plant. More than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 16,000 people are still missing.

Some 1,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power in Tokyo on March 27. Some demonstrators wore the protective suits used by workers at Fukushima and others held signs reading "Nuke means death" or simply "Stop."

Toshihiro Inoue, one of the protesters at the rally, said, "Since the accident happened, due to the Fukushima incident, people are thinking about how there is no need for nuclear power, and we hope to emphasize this."

Meanwhile, Japanese government officials have said that all possible efforts are being made to contain the accident at Fukushima and have urged citizens to remain calm.

compiled from agency reports