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Asia-Pacific

Japan PM plays down danger of water radiation content

media French President Nicolas Sarkozy is greeted by Japan PM Naoto Kan on a … Reuters/Shizuo Kambayashi

High levels of radioactive iodine-131 - 10,000 times the government safety standard - have been found in groundwater below Japan’s Fukushima plant, according to the plant’s operator, Tepco. But Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Friday that there was no threat to people’s health if they followed government advice.

Workers on Friday were preparing to spray resin on the rubble of the blast-hit reactor.

Meanwhile the country’s nuclear safety agency says it has issued a warning to Tepco about the safety of those trying to deal with the damaged reactors.

Most of the company’s dosimeters, which measure exposure to radiation, were lost in last month’s tsunami. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, emergency crews had to work in groups, sharing dosimeters.

A spokesperson for the agency declined to clarify when it had become aware of the shortage of radiation meters, but said Tepco has since sourced enough for all workers, and would no longer workers to go into the plant without a detector.

Since the start of the crisis, a total of 21 workers have been exposed to radiation exceeding 100 millisieverts, the lowest level at which an increase in cancer risk is evident, according to the safety agency.

The maximum level of radiation to which emergency workers should be exposed is 100 millisieverts, under agency rules, but the limit has been raised to 250 millisieverts specifically for work at Fukushima.

Tepco is one of the world’s largest utilities and could face huge costs and compensation claims, but it might end up receiving taxpayer money because of the need to maintain a stable power supply.

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