Greenpeace to monitor Japanese radiation levels

SENDAI, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Nuclear experts from environmental watchdog Greenpeace started monitoring radiation near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 atomic power plant in northeast Japan on Saturday, the group said.

Greenpeace said it believed Japanese authorities may have been underplaying the scale of the disaster at the quake- and tsunami-hit plant and wanted to assess the radiation levels and risks to the local population for itself.

"Since the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the authorities have consistently appeared to underestimate both the risks and extent of radioactive contamination," Greenpeace's Jan van de Putte said in a statement.

"We have come to Fukushima to bear witness to the impacts of this crisis and to provide some independent insight into the resulting radioactive contamination," said Van de Putte, the group's radioactivity safety advisor.

The campaign group said it would provide "an alternative to the often contradictory information released by nuclear regulators".

The statement came as Japan's nuclear safety agency said the operator of the Fukushima plant, which has seen a series of blasts since the March 11 quake, had detected radioactive iodine 1,250 times the legal limit in seawater nearby.

Fears over radioactive contamination have sparked the evacuation of an area within 30 kilometres (20 miles) of the plant and led governments around the world to ban imports of certain Japanese food products.

Abnormally high levels of radiation have also been detected in tap water in Tokyo, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the plant, leading authorities to briefly advise against using it to make infant milk formula.

But the warning was lifted after just one day because the amount of radioactive iodine in the water fell back below the safe level for babies.