Japan may nationalise Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power, the owner of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant, may be temporarily nationalised by the Japanese government in order to resolve the crisis in the reactors.

Responding to a Japanese newspaper report saying a plan to temporarily nationalise the company had been floated by some government members, national strategy minister Koichiro Gemba said a discussion about bailing out Tokyo Electric was possible.

"Naturally it is possible that there will be various debates about the state of Tokyo Electric," Gemba was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying.

The discussion came as nuclear waste from the stricken plant was detected in soil in the Fukushima complex and critics urged Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan to widen the exclusion zone around the plant to move out a further 130,000 people.

Tepco said low-risk levels of plutonium had been found in five places in the complex, which must come from spent fuel rods or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one that uses plutonium in its fuel mix.

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor's containment mechanism had been breached.

"Plutonium is a substance that's emitted when the temperature is high, and it's also heavy and so does not leak out easily," agency deputy director Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference.

"So if plutonium has emerged from the reactor, that tells us something about the damage to the fuel. And if it has breached the original containment system, it underlines the gravity and seriousness of this accident."

Radiation from the plant is now being picked up in the air as far away as Florida and a mile out to sea around the plant in what is now being termed the world's worst atomic crisis in 25 years.