In a nationally televised address Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from the reactors that make up the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northern Japan and warned that anyone within a 30 kilometer, or 19 mile radius should stay inside or risk getting radiation sickness. The Associated Press reported that some 180,000 people within a 12 mile radius of the affected area had already been evacuated.
The Prime Minister’s statement follows reports of an early morning explosion at the nuclear plant — the third in four days – and later reports that a fire had broken out in one of the reactors.
“The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out,” Kan said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said early Tuesday that a fourth reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex was on fire and that more radiation was released, but officials announced later in the day that the fire was extinguished.
“Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health. These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening. Far away, the levels should be lower,” Edano said.
The early morning blast happened as Japanese engineers were pumping seawater into reactor Unit 2 after coolant water levels there dropped and exposed uranium fuel rods. Some emergency workers were evacuated following the blast. Now, nearly all of the approximately 800 workers at the plant have left, but 50 remain to carry out crucial cooling work, CNN reports.
“There is still a very high risk of further radioactive material coming out,” the prime minister said, calling on people to remain calm. “We are making every effort possible so that no further explosion or no further leakage … would happen.”
The cause of the explosion still remains unclear, the New York Times said. Officials were trying to figure out if the blast “was caused by the buildup of hydrogen, as occurred at the two other reactors at Daiichi — one on Saturday and the most recent one on Monday, when there was also a large explosion at the No. 3 reactor.”
Two sources told NBC News‘ Robert Bazell that the blast breached the containment structure and that radiation had leaked out.
The agency said the explosion may have damaged the reactor’s suppression chamber, a water-filled tube at the bottom of the container that surrounds the nuclear core, said agency spokesman, Shinji Kinjo. He said that chamber is part of the container wall.
Edano said earlier Tuesday he could not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at the troubled reactors. While sea water was being pumped into the reactors in an effort to prevent further damage, “it cannot necessarily be called a stable situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, rescue workers continued Tuesday to scour tangled and displaced piles of debris, searching for survivors.
The official death count from the earthquake and tsunami now stands at 2,475 but many thousands are still unnacounted for.
Information is difficult to come by and hard to confirm as communication remains difficult in northern Japan following Friday’s devastating earthquake. Care2 will update the situation as more reports become available.
For more Care2 coverage on the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, click here.
Photo of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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