Workers at Japan’s quake-ravaged Fukushima nuclear plant have been evacuated after extremely high radiation levels were detected.
A spokesman for the operators of the plant says radiation detected in a puddle of water was 10 million times higher than usual.
The workers had been struggling to pump radioactive water out of the plant.
The extremely high level of radiation discovered at reactor No. 2 is by far the most radioactive water to be found at the Fukushima plant so far.
The water, near the second reactor, triggered an evacuation order.
With ten million times the normal level of radiation for water in a working reactor the country’s nuclear safety agency says there’s a high possibility it’s coming directly from the reactor itself.
Extreme levels of radioactive caesium levels suggest there is major damage to the reactor’s fuel rods.
Last week three workers with inadequate protection suffered burns to their feet when they stepped in radioactive water at reactor three.
The announcement comes as the radiation levels in the sea off the Fukushima plant have also increased.
The offshore radiation levels have now risen to 1,850 times normal from 1,250 on Saturday, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.
A new shadow has been cast over efforts to control the radiation leak at the plant and the government says it is worried highly radioactive water is leaking from reactor No. 3.
A second pool of contaminated water has also been found in the basement of the No. 1 reactor.
The No. 3 reactor is a particular concern because it is the only one of six at the plant to use a potentially volatile mix of uranium and plutonium.
A hydrogen explosion badly damaged the unit’s outer building on March 14 and a partial meltdown is also suspected.
Two workers from the plant were rushed to hospital on Thursday after receiving radiation burns from standing in the puddle near the No. 3 reactor with a radiation level 10,000 times higher than normal.
High levels of radioactive iodine have also been found in seawater near the nuclear plant.
The seawater sample was taken around 300 metres from the nuclear plant near its drain outlets.
Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency says the level of radioactive iodine was more than 1,200 times the legal limit.
Government officials insist there is no immediate threat to human health and they expect the radiation will be significantly diluted before it affects fish.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which operates the stricken plant, said it may take another month to achieve a cold shutdown – when reactor temperatures fall below boiling point and cooling systems are back at atmospheric pressure.
“It is possible that the pressure vessel containing the fuel rods in the reactor is damaged,” a TEPCO spokesman said of reactor No. 3.