Radioactive levels 10 times above normal near Tokyo

IAEA reports fuel pond fire that released radioactivity into atmosphere was extinguished; News agency says fuel pond at No. 4 reactor boiling.

By REUTERS
March 15, 2011 09:28
3 minute read.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)

Radiation levels in the city of Maebashi, 100 km (60 miles) north Tokyo, were up to 10 times normal on Tuesday, Kyodo news agency said, quoting the city government.

Japan's prime minister warned on Tuesday that radioactive levels had become high around an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant after explosions at two reactors, adding that the risk of more radioactive leakage was rising.


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The UN nuclear watchdog was told by Japanese officials that Japan had extinguished a fire at the spent fuel storage pond of its earthquake-stricken reactor, the Vienna-based agency said.

"Japanese authorities have confirmed that the fire at the spent fuel storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was extinguished," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

Meanwhile, a pool containing spent fuel at the quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi No.4 reactor may be boiling and the water level may be falling, Kyodo news agency quoted an official at the reactor's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, as saying.

It had said earlier on Monday that the fire may have been caused by a hydrogen explosion and that radioactivity was being released "directly" into the atmosphere.

Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility north of Tokyo to remain indoors.

The French embassy in the capital warned in an advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo -- 240 km (150 miles) south of the plant -- in about 10 hours.

The reactor operator asked the US military for help, while Kyodo news agency said radiation levels nine times normal levels had been briefly detected in Kanagawa near Tokyo.

"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," Kan said in an address to the nation.

As concern about the crippling economic impact of the double disaster mounted, Japanese stocks plunged 7.0 percent to their lowest level in nearly two years, compounding a drop of 7.6 percent the day before. The two-day fall has wiped around $500 billion off the market.



There have been a total of four explosions at the plant since it was damaged in last Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Authorities had previously been trying to prevent meltdowns in three of the Fukishima Daiichi complex's nuclear reactors by flooding the chambers with sea water to cool them down.

The full extent of the destruction wreaked by last Friday's massive quake and tsunami that followed it was still becoming clear, as rescuers combed through the region north of Tokyo. At least 1,254 people confirmed dead in Kesennuma, Higashimatsubara, Sendai and other cities, but local authorities fear more than 10,000 people may have died in the prefecture alone.

The US Geological Survey upgraded the quake to magnitude 9.0, from 8.9, making it the world's fourth most powerful since 1900.

Car makers, shipbuilders and technology companies worldwide scrambled for supplies after the disaster shut factories in Japan and disrupted the global manufacturing chain.

Blast damages roof, workers told to leave

The fear at the Fukushima plant is of a major radiation leak after the quake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems.

Jiji news agency said the first explosion on Tuesday damaged the roof and steam was rising from the complex. It also reported some workers had been told to leave the plant, a development one expert had warned beforehand could signal a worsening stage for the crisis.

The worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 has drawn criticism that authorities were ill-prepared and revived debate in many countries about the safety of atomic power.

Whilst the Fukuskima plant's No.1 and No.3 reactors both suffered partial fuel rod meltdowns, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) had earlier said the No.2 reactor was now the biggest concern.

A sudden drop in cooling water levels when a pump ran out of fuel had fully exposed the fuel rods for a time, an official said. This could lead to the rods melting down and a possible radioactive leak.


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