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Japan nuclear mystery: Where are pools of radioactive water coming from?

The contaminated pools in the reactor turbine buildings have created a tough new challenge for officials trying to contain the Japan nuclear crisis. The source of radioactivity is a mystery.

People work in the control room of reactor No. 2 with restored lighting at the earthquake and tsunami affected Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima in this March 26 photo.

Tokyo Electric Power Co./Kyodo/Reuters

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Over the last two days workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have discovered numerous pools of radioactive water in reactor turbine buildings and maintenance trenches. This contamination has given Japanese officials yet another tough problem to deal with as they struggle to bring the crippled complex back under control.

The radioactive water in these pools also poses a mystery: Where is it coming from?

“It is difficult from the data we have seen to determine how that water got into those locations,” said David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, at a Monday briefing for reporters.

Gallery: Japan survivors

Radioactive water first arose as a crucial issue last week when three workers in the basement of Reactor Unit 3 unknowingly stepped into a contaminated pool. Water sloshed over their boots and set off their personal radiation alarms. All three were taken to a hospital for observation. Japanese authorities said Monday they had been released.

Over the weekend Japanese authorities discovered similar pools of radioactive water in Reactor Unit 2. On Monday, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) officials announced that they had found more contaminated water in deep trenches used for pipes and wires outside three reactor units.

The radioactivity associated with the water is about four times the level that is safe for workers, according to TEPCO. Thus the presence of the pools is making it much more difficult for workers to proceed with laying electric cables to reconnect pumps and other critical equipment.

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