Updated from 11:14 a.m. EDT with information regarding the nuclear emergency in Japan.
NEW YORK (
) -- The nuclear crisis in Japan remained uncertain on Monday after workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power complex detected traces of radioactive plutonium in nearby soil, plant operator
Tokyo Electric Power
Protesters hold placards that reads "We don't need nuclear plant" during an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo on Sunday.
Crews found traces of plutonium, a key radioactive ingredient in nuclear bombs, in soil samples from five locations outside of the complex on Monday. Plant officials quickly reassured the Japanese that the levels of radioactive plutonium 238, 239 and 240 were not dangerous.
"Plutonium found this time is at a similar level seen in soil in a regular environment and it's not at the level that's harmful to human health," TEPCO vice president Sakae Muto said in a press briefing in Tokyo late Monday night,
TEPCO official Jun Tsuruoka said that only two of the five samples with plutonium were a result of the leaking reactors. He explained that the other three were from earlier nuclear tests that have left safe traces of plutonium around the world,
The Associated Press
Emergency crews also detected extremely hazardous radiation levels in the water at the plant's Unit 2 reactor on Monday. The contaminated water reportedly contained at least 100,000 times the normal radiation level for coolants inside a nuclear reactor.
Workers found contaminated water outside three units, with the radiation levels outside Unit 2 emitting over 1,000 millisieverts of airborne radioactivity per hour, which is more than four times the government-approved amount for workers, TEPCO said Monday.
Anxiety among Japanese residents remains high as officials warned on Monday that radiation was seeping from the coastal nuclear complex and was spreading to nearby seawater and soil.
As the plant continues to spew radioactivity into the air and surrounding seawater, authorities and workers are trying desperately to pump out and safely store the hundreds of tons of radioactive water before work on restoring the plant's cooling system can resume, the
Power plant workers have been working tirelessly to cool the overheating reactors ever since the diesel generators, which provide backup electricity to the plant's cooling system, were completely knocked out by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11.
Crews are working to extract contaminated water from Unit 1, but may not be able to clear out Unit 2 or Unit 3 as all of the nearby storage tanks are full, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said Monday,
"We will first have to empty some of the tanks," Nishiyama said,
Japan struggles to deal with the radiation-leaking Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
Monday's readings showed contamination in the ocean had spread about a mile farther north of the nuclear site than before, and that levels of radioactive iodine-131 discovered directly offshore from Unit 5 and Unit 6 were 1,150 times higher than normal, Nishiyama told reporters.
Meanwhile, emergency crews continue to clear the rubble and debris left behind by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit killed up to 20,000 people, according to estimates. The Japanese government said last week that rebuilding efforts could cost up to $309 billion.
The death toll in Japan stood at about 11,004 as of Monday, according to Japan's National Police Agency, while more than 17,300 were missing.
Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston
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