Japan PM warns radioactive levels high after blast

PM Naoto Kan has warned that radioactive levels had become high around an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant after explosion.

Last Updated: Mar 15, 2011, 09:38 AM IST

Fukushima: Japan`s Prime Minister warned on Tuesday that radioactive levels had become high around an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant after explosions at two reactors, adding that the risk of more radioactive leakage was rising.

Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility north of Tokyo to remain indoors.

The French embassy in the capital warned in an advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo -- 240 km (150 miles) south of the plant -- in about 10 hours.

The reactor operator asked the U.S. military for help, while Kyodo news agency said radiation levels nine times normal levels had been briefly detected in Kanagawa near Tokyo.

"We are making every effort to prevent the leak from spreading. I know that people are very worried but I would like to ask you to act calmly," Kan said in an address to the nation.

As concern about the crippling economic impact of the double disaster mounted, Japanese stocks plunged 7.0 percent to their lowest level in nearly two years, compounding a drop of 7.6 percent the day before. The two-day fall has wiped around $500 billion off the market.

There have been a total of four explosions at the plant since it was damaged in last Friday`s massive earthquake and tsunami.

Authorities had previously been trying to prevent meltdowns in three of the Fukishima Daiichi complex`s nuclear reactors by flooding the chambers with sea water to cool them down.

The full extent of the destruction wreaked by last Friday`s massive quake and tsunami that followed it was still becoming clear, as rescuers combed through the region north of Tokyo where officials say at least 10,000 people were killed.

"It`s a scene from hell, absolutely nightmarish," said Patrick Fuller of the International Red Cross Federation from the northeastern coastal town of Otsuchi.

Kan has said Japan is facing its worst crisis since World War Two and, with the financial costs estimated at up to $180 billion, analysts said it could tip the world`s third-biggest economy back into recession.

The U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the quake to magnitude 9.0, from 8.9, making it the world`s fourth most powerful since 1900.

Car makers, shipbuilders and technology companies worldwide scrambled for supplies after the disaster shut factories in Japan and disrupted the global manufacturing chain.

The fear at the Fukushima plant is of a major radiation leak after the quake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems.

Jiji news agency said the first explosion on Tuesday damaged the roof and steam was rising from the complex. It also reported some workers had been told to leave the plant, a development one expert had warned beforehand could signal a worsening stage for the crisis.

The worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 has drawn criticism that authorities were ill-prepared and revived debate in many countries about the safety of atomic power.
Switzerland put on hold some approvals for nuclear power plants and Germany said it was scrapping a plan to extend the life of its nuclear power stations. The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama remained committed to nuclear energy.

Whilst the Fukuskima plant`s No.1 and No.3 reactors both suffered partial fuel rod meltdowns, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) had earlier said the No.2 reactor was now the biggest concern.

A sudden drop in cooling water levels when a pump ran out of fuel had fully exposed the fuel rods for a time, an official said. This could lead to the rods melting down and a possible radioactive leak.

TEPCO had resumed pumping sea water into the reactor early on Tuesday.

U.S. warships and planes helping with relief efforts moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation. The U.S. Seventh Fleet described the move as precautionary.

South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines said they would test Japanese food imports for radiation.

France`s ASN nuclear safety authority said the accident could be classified as a level 5 or 6 on the international scale of 1 to 7, putting it on a par with the 1979 U.S. Three Mile Island meltdown, higher than the Japanese authorities` rating.

Japan`s nuclear safety agency has rated the incidents in the No.1 and No.3 reactors as a 4, but has not yet rated the No. 2 reactor.

PTI