Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan faces "apocalyptic" Disaster as Radiation Spills from Stricken Nuclear Plant

JAPAN was last night on the brink of an “apocalyptic” disaster as radiation spewed out from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, experts warned.

A deadly atomic cloud is poised to spread death and misery across the country and engineers are locked in a desperate battle to prevent a meltdown of fuel rods at the quake-hit reactors.

Millions of Tokyo residents were living in fear that, with a wind change, the radiation could descend on the city.

As the danger rating at the plant was upgraded from five to six out of seven, Europe’s energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said: “There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen.

“Practically everything is out of control. I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come.”

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan admitted perilous levels of radiation were leaking from the power station.

At one point it soared to 400 times the annual legal limit.

Mr Kan said on TV: “Radiation has spread from the reactors and the reading seems high. There is a very high risk of further radioactive material coming out.

“We would like to ask you to remain indoors, at home or in your offices and avoid going outside.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano added: “Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health. There is no mistake about that.”

He also said a fourth reactor was on fire at the plant that has been hit by three blasts in four days. One reactor was no longer sealed, sparking fears of further leaks. Two workers were reported missing.

US experts fear the danger level will be upgraded to seven. That has only been used once before, at Chernobyl in 1986.

Nuclear expert John Harris said: “It seems to be getting more serious as days go by.

“The fact we have now had three hydrogen explosions tells me almost certainly that the reactor cores must be quite badly damaged.

“It could have distorted to the point of meltdown, where some of the core drips into the bottom of the reactor. That is serious.” Russia’s nuclear chief said all six reactors could melt unless the rods are cooled soon. Japanese ­authorities were last night planning to spray water from ­helicopters into an overheating nuclear fuel storage pool.

In Tokyo, parts of the city were eerily quiet as fear gripped residents.

The few people who did venture out admitted the nuclear threat terrified them more than ­after-shocks. But there was no sense of panic and the expected mass exodus of Tokyo failed to materialise.

Radiation levels reached 20 times the usual level. There was some relief when winds expected to blow any radioactive cloud towards the capital did not ­materialise. But UN weather experts said they were keeping a close eye on changing patterns. More than 140,000 people living within 19 miles of ­Fukushima were warned to stay indoors. A no-fly zone was in place for a 20-mile radius over the plant. Bosses have ­evacuated 750 staff – leaving just 70 brave workers to tackle the crisis.

The International Atomic Energy Agency insisted radiation levels were falling. But local media claimed they rose too high for Tokyo Electric Power Company staff to stay in control rooms. The workers, all wearing protective gear, were rotated in and out of the danger zone quickly to reduce exposure. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the third explosion may have damaged the reactor’s suppression chamber.

Residents living in Soma – 35 miles away and outside the exclusion zone – said they were terrified. And some believe the government is not being honest about the extent of the danger.

Innkeeper Toshiaki Kiuchi, 63, said: “I don’t think they are telling us the truth. Maybe even they don’t know.” Shinako Tachiya, 70, added: “We are really afraid. You can’t see fallout so we are totally relying on them for our lives.

“I think they are not being open with us. They aren’t telling us anything.”

US authorities said low-level ­radioactivity was detected at the ­Yokosuka military base, 200 miles away.

The Foreign Office advised against all non-essential travel to Japan but said there were no plans to evacuate Brits.

More than 500 bone marrow transplant centres across Europe were on standby to treat possible radiation victims.


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