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News Wrap: Groundwater Beneath Fukushima Plant Shows High Radiation Levels

March 31, 2011 at 6:31 PM EST
In other news Thursday, groundwater beneath the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan measured 10,000 times the standard level of radiation. Officials do not believe radiation contaminated the drinking water supply. Also, a suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least 12 people and wounded 20 in the northwest town of Charsadda.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Radioactivity in groundwater beneath a damaged nuclear power plant in Japan has measured 10,000 times the standard level. That’s according to officials with the company that operates the Fukushima Daiichi facility. But they do not believe it has contaminated the drinking water supply.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is looking into new data from the U.N.’s nuclear agency to determine whether to expand the current evacuation zone around the plant.

YUKIO EDANO, Japanese chief Cabinet secretary (through translator): Regarding reports from the IAEA that radiation from the soil exceeds safe limits, we believe that this would only be harmful to health if you were exposed to it for long periods of time.

So, we are going to increase our monitoring to see if there is the possibility of protracted high levels of radiation in the area, and it is necessary to make thorough analysis of this and take relevant measures on the basis of this monitoring.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the wake of Japan’s nuclear problems, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a more intensive review of three U.S. nuclear plants.

The plants are in South Carolina, Kansas and Nebraska and have had problems with safety systems or unplanned shutdowns. But the regulator’s chairman stressed, all American facilities are operating inside safety guidelines.

At least a dozen people died in Pakistan today when a suicide bomber hit a convoy carrying a prominent hard-line Islamist party leader. The blast went off in the northwest town of Charsadda, and wounded at least 20 people. The explosion damaged several shops and a police truck. But the politician escaped unharmed. It was the second attack to target him in as many days.

In New Orleans today, two former police officers were sentenced for their roles in the shooting death of an unarmed man in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. David Warren was sentenced to 25 years, and Gregory McRae received a 17-year sentence. Warren shot Henry Glover outside a New Orleans strip mall, and McRae later burned a car with Glover’s body in it. The two men are among 20 officers charged last year with crimes committed in the storm’s aftermath.

Ireland’s banks need an extra $34 billion to survive their financial crisis. That was determined after independent banking experts and the Irish Central Bank put four banks through stress tests. And it brings the total bailout to nearly $100 billion.

We have a report from Faisal Islam of Independent Television News.

FAISAL ISLAM: Banks will be merged, shut and shrunk, leaving just two remaining financial groups, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks. The extra black hole came about after another set of stress tests for the health of the Irish financial system run by the Central Bank governor. It revealed likely future losses of tens of billions of euros, that money likely to come from an already cash-strapped Irish state.

PATRICK HONOHAN, Central Bank of Ireland: Analysts will make their own calculations. And I suppose the indications will be, though I don’t preclude anything, but the indications would be that, at this gain of capital, that we would see majority state ownership in all of them.

FAISAL ISLAM: Today’s stress tests are intended to draw a line under market fears of Ireland’s deeply distressed housing market. If (INAUDIBLE) seem rather two-dimensional, falls in house prices of nearly 40 percent and counting explain why.
But it was Ireland’s commercial property bust that caused the first round of bank collapses, principally the notorious Anglo Irish Bank, which today announced a 15 billion pound annual loss — and what should have been a bank problem now the burden of all of Ireland’s taxpayers.

So, are there any other ways to cut the final bill? Ireland’s banks will sell some assets, but that may not raise much money. The new government has talked up hitting the financiers, the bondholders that lent money to the banks, but shied away from it today. The government was hoping for more medium-term help from the European Central Bank, though that didn’t materialize either.

Tonight, we know the true size of Ireland’s banking black hole, but the long-term solution to pay for it and to end the euro crisis is still up in the air.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The European Central Bank and the International Monetary fund praised the Irish plans as comprehensive and a step in the right direction.

Stocks on Wall Street ended the day mixed, as the price of oil jumped to a 30-month high. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 31 points to close above 12,319. The Nasdaq rose four points to close at 2,781. Oil climbed higher amid concerns over Libya, closing above $106 a barrel.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.