Disasters | 15.03.2011
Radiation poses health risk in Japan after two new blasts
Radioactivity levels have returned to normal after reaching dangerous levels in Japan on Tuesday. Radiation rose around the country's earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power complex after two new explosions hit reactors on Tuesday morning. They are the third and fourth blasts since Saturday.
"There is no doubt that unlike in the past, the figures are the level at which human health can be affected," said chief government spokesman Yukio Edano.
Edano said that radiation levels on Tuesday morning were 30 millisieverts between Number 2 and Number 3 reactors, 400 millisieverts near Number 3 and 100 millisieverts near Number 4.
A single dose of 1,000 millisieverts - or one sievert - causes temporary radiation sickness, such as nausea and vomiting. A dose of five sieverts is enough to kill about half of those people exposed to it within a month.
The Japanese government has urged people living within a 30-km radius of the nuclear facility to stay indoors and a 30-km no fly-zone has been imposed around the reactors.
Meanwhile, the plant operator has pulled out 750 workers. Just 50 remain to battle the ongoing threat of fire and explosions at the plant.
Between 6:00 a.m. (2100 GMT Monday) and 6:15 a.m. an explosion hit the Number 2 reactor of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said. By 8:31 a.m., radiation levels there had exceeded eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year.
In a televised address, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the nation there had "been a fire at the Number 4 reactor" and that radiation levels in the surrounding area had "heightened significantly."
"We are making every effort to prevent the leak from spreading," he said. "I know that people are very worried but I would like to ask you to act calmly."
The fire has reportedly been extinguished since the prime minister's announcement, according to Japanese media, but the situation surrounding reactor number four remains volatile.
Japanese news agency, Kyodo reported that the water in the containment pool of reactor number four was boiling. If it evaporates, the nuclear fuel rods will be exposed to air, possibly causing them to catch fire and release radioactive material.
Authorities have said that they may use helicopters to pour water into the containment pool in the coming days in an effort to cool it down.
"They've got to get the fires out, keep the fires out and keep the water from boiling," said Murray Jennex, a professor at San Diego State University in California.
Radiation in Tokyo
Experts suggested that radiation drifted 250 kilometers away from Fukushima to the capital, Tokyo on Tuesday.
Authorities detected higher than normal radiation levels in the capital but said they posed no heath threat. Nevertheless, residents have been fleeing the city and shops are reporting panic buying.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Four explosions have hit Fukushima's reactors Numerous countries have also imposed flight restrictions to Tokyo. Airlines from Asia and Europe announced on Tuesday that flights to Tokyo will be halted amid fears that radiation had reached the capital.
Lufthansa said planes will be diverted to the Japanese cities of Nagoya and Osaka, hundreds of kilometers west of the capital.
A spokesman for the airline said that the diversion could last until the weekend, adding that flights which returned from Tokyo on Monday had been checked for radioactivity and no traces were found.
Several countries, including Germany, have issued warnings against travel to the country. The German Foreign Ministry website states that "non-essential travel to Japan is inadvisable."
Japanese markets reacted to the increased concern on Tuesday with the Nikkei Index plunging some 13 percent. The steep decline in share prices over the last two days has wiped some $720 billion (517 billion euros) off the market.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Millions are without running water and electricityThere have been a total of four explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in northeastern Japan since it was damaged in Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami. The most recent were blasts at reactors Number 2 and 4 earlier on Tuesday.
Experts say Japan's current nuclear disaster is the world's worst since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the full extent of the damage from the earthquake and the resulting tsunami that destroyed the northeastern Miyagi prefecture were still becoming clear. Officials say the death toll could reach over 10,000 people were killed and tens of thousands more were missing as a result of the quake, the world's fourth most powerful since 1900.
Authors: David Levitz, Gregg Benzow, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton