Associated Press – March 15, 2011
Radiation leaks from a damaged nuclear power plant in tsunami-hit Japan now pose a risk to human health, officials have warned.
Concerns rose for those near Fukushima Dai-ichi plant as a third explosion rocked the complex early this morning.
The nuclear crisis deepened as the official death toll topped 2,400 following the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on Friday.
Tens of thousands are still missing, and there are fears some Britons may be among the dead.
In an televised statement after the latest blast, believed to be in the number 2 reactor, prime minister Naoto Kan urged those within 19 miles of the area to stay indoors.
Mr Kan said: “The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out.”
In addition to the three blasts that have occurred since Saturday, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said a fire had broken out in a fourth reactor at the plant, and more radiation had been released.
Mr Edano said: “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.
“Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don’t turn on ventilators. Please hang on your laundry indoors.
“These are figures that potentially affect health, there is no mistake about that.”
Some 800 non-essential staff have been evacuated from the plant, while 50 workers remained at the complex to try to cool the reactors with water.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has said there are “severe concerns” about Britons still missing in Japan after the disaster.
There have so far been no confirmed reports of British fatalities in Friday’s disaster, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons.
But around 17,000 UK nationals are known to have been in Japan at the time the catastrophic quake struck, and fears remain that some of them may be among the tens of thousands believed killed.
The Foreign Office’s emergency helpline has been contacted by around 4,700 worried relatives and friends seeking news of loved ones.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged any UK nationals who are in Japan or have recently left to make contact and confirm that they are safe.
Search and rescue teams struggling to save the lives of people still trapped in the debris have been joined by a 63-strong team from the UK.
Mr Cameron said Britain stood ready to send any further assistance that is needed – including nuclear experts to help tackle emergencies at plants including Fukushima, where cooling system failures at three reactors have led to hydrogen explosions.
In a statement to MPs, the Prime Minister said: “The devastation we are witnessing in Japan is of course of truly colossal proportions.
“It has been heart-breaking to listen to people who have had all their relatives, their friends, their possessions and their homes simply washed away. Those who have survived will not recognise the place where their homes once stood.
“We do not yet know the full and dreadful death toll, nor can anyone truly understand the impact these events will have, but Japan and the Japanese people are a resilient and resourceful nation. Britain and the British people are your friends and we have no doubt you will recover.”
Fears of a major slowdown in the world’s third-largest economy sparked a huge slump in Japanese shares, with Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index closing more than 6% lower and some of the world’s biggest firms, such as Toshiba, Toyota and Honda, sustaining heavy share price losses.
Shares in UK insurers also slumped amid estimates that the claims bill arising from the quake could reach as high as £22 billion.
There were calls from environmental campaigners for the Government to reconsider plans for eight new nuclear power stations in the UK in the light of the crisis at Fukushima.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has ordered the Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to carry out a swift review of the implications for the UK’s plans.
“It is essential that we understand the full facts and their implications, both for existing nuclear reactors and any new programme, as safety is always our number one concern,” said Mr Huhne.
Mr Cameron told MPs that any lessons from the incident should be learnt, but pointed out that the UK has no reactors of the type seen at Fukushima and no plans to build them.
The Government’s Cobra emergency committee and the National Security Council continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss events in Japan, said Mr Cameron.
And he said that a fourth Foreign Office rapid deployment team will assist UK nationals and seek out information on missing Britons for their worried families.
“As yet there are no confirmed British fatalities, but we have severe concerns about a number of British nationals,” Mr Cameron told MPs.
After arriving in Japan on Sunday, the UK international search and rescue (Isar) team, made up of 63 UK fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team, deployed today to the town of Ofunato in the north-east of Japan.
The experts brought with them 11 tonnes of specialist rescue equipment, including heavy lifting and cutting gear to try to save the lives of people buried under rubble.
They were hoping that the numerous large buildings still standing there, despite the damage they had suffered, would yield survivors.
If there are any signs of life, the teams will concentrate their efforts in these areas, using specialist tools to penetrate reinforced concrete and metal and gain access to victims, they said.
Meanwhile Save the Children warned that up to 100,000 infants had been displaced in the earthquake and tsunami.
Stephen McDonald, who is leading the charity’s response, said: “Their homes may have been destroyed and many of them will be sheltering in crowded evacuation centres. We can only imagine how frightening the experience of the last few days will have been for them.
“There is also a risk that some of them will have become separated from their parents and family members because of the disaster. It is important we provide support to parents and children who are struggling to cope in the aftermath of the disaster.”
The Foreign Office has advised against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and north east Japan.