Japan faces catastrophe

Japan faces catastrophe

The crisis appeared to escalate when the operators of the facility said one of the two blasts had blown a hole in the building housing a reactor, which meant spent nuclear fuel was exposed to the atmosphere.

There have been a total of four explosions at the plant since it was damaged in last Friday’s massive quake and tsunami. The most recent were blasts at reactors No 2 and No 4.

A US scientists' organisation said the radiation plume from the damaged nuclear power plant could reach Tokyo.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also said a “jerry-rigged” cooling system at the Japanese plant would be hard to maintain if all workers there were evacuated.
Nuclear power and safety experts at the group said they were “very concerned” that ongoing activities at the plant would become more challenging for on-site workers. A larger radiation plume could travel hundreds of kilometres, the scientists said in a telephone briefing from Washington.

A crack in the containment vessel could allow radiation to exit the reactor in case of a core meltdown, the scientists said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km of the facility — a population of 140,000 — to remain indoors amid the world's most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Officials in Tokyo — 240 km to the south of the plant — said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal by evening but posed no threat to human health in the sprawling high-tech city of 13 million people.

Around eight hours after the explosions, the UN weather agency said winds were dispersing radioactive material over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries.

Authorities have spent days desperately trying to prevent the water which is designed to cool the radioactive cores of the reactors from running dry, overheating and emitting dangerous radioactive materials.

They said they may use helicopters to pour water on the most critical reactor, No 4, within two or three days, but did not say why they would have to wait to do this.
“The possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening,” a grim-faced Kan said in an address to the nation earlier in the day.

“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.”

No-fly zone
The plant operator pulled out 750 workers, leaving just 50, and a 30-km no-fly zone was imposed around the reactors. There have been no detailed updates on what levels the radiation reached inside the exclusion zone where people live.

“Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to human bodies because it will be dissipated by the time it gets to Tokyo,” said Koji Yamazaki, professor at Hokkaido University Graduate School of Environmental Science. “If the wind gets stronger, it means the material flies faster but it will be even more dispersed in the air.” A Reuters reporter using a Geiger counter showed negligible levels of radiation in the capital.

Several embassies advised staff and citizens to leave affected areas in Japan. Tourists cut short vacations.

“Everyone is going out of the country today,” said Gunta Brunner, a 25-year-old creative director from Argentina preparing to board a flight at Narita airport. “With the radiation, it's like you cannot escape and you can't see it.”

Lam Ching-wan, a chemical pathologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the blasts could expose the population to longer-term exposure to radiation, which can raise the risk of thyroid and bone cancers and leukemia. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable, he said.

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