TOKYO — Workers at Japan's damaged nuclear plant raced to pump out contaminated water suspected of sending radioactivity levels soaring as officials warned Monday that radiation seeping from the complex was spreading to seawater and soil.
Mounting obstacles, missteps and confusion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex have stymied emergency workers struggling to cool down the overheating plant and avert a disaster with global implications.
The coastal power plant, located 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, has been leaking radiation since a magnitude-9.0 quake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that engulfed the complex. The wave knocked out power to the system that cools the dangerously hot nuclear fuel rods.
On Monday, workers resumed the laborious yet urgent task of pumping out the hundreds of tons of radioactive water inside several buildings at the six-unit plant. The water must be removed and safely stored before work can continue to power up the plant's regular cooling system, nuclear safety officials said.
Contaminated water in Unit 2 tested at radiation levels some 100,000 times normal amounts, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.
As officials scrambled to determine the source of the radioactive water, chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Monday that the contaminated water in Unit 2 appeared to be due to a partial meltdown of the reactor core.
A TEPCO spokesman said the presence of radioactive chemicals such as iodine and cesium point to damaged fuel rods as the source. However, pressure inside the containers holding the reactors was stable, indicating any meltdown was only partial, spokesman Kaoru Yoshida said.
New readings show contamination in the ocean has spread about a mile (1.6 kilometers) farther north of the nuclear site than before. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered just offshore from Unit 5 and Unit 6 at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.