UPDATE 1-Japan says plutonium at plant not harmful levels

TOKYO, March 29 (Reuters) – The amount of plutonium detected
at the quake-stricken plant in Japan is similar to that which
would occur at a location far from an atmospheric nuclear test
but is not harmful to people, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency said on Tuesday.

In the latest blow to hopes that authorities were gradually
getting the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control, plant
operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium had
been found at low-risk levels in soil samples at the facility.

“It (the amount of plutonium discovered) was the same level
as normally found in the atmosphere as radioactive fallout after
an atmospheric nuclear test, but a test done far away that would
not directly affect someone,” Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy
director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency,
said at a news conference.

The detection of plutonium at the site was further evidence
that fuel rods in at least one of the six reactors may have
melted down considerably before they were cooled, and that there
is damage to the structures containing the nuclear core.

Only trace amounts of the toxic substance have been detected.
The level of up to 0.54 becquerals per kg of soil is not
considered harmful.

Plutonium-239, used most in reactors, has a half-life of
24,200 years. It is not readily absorbed by the body but what is
absorbed, stays put, irradiates surrounding tissue and is
carcinogenic.

(Reporting by Terril Jones; Editing by John Chalmers and Joseph
Radford)

UPDATE 1-Japan says plutonium at plant not harmful levels