Japan Radiation Cleanup 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TOKYO- Japan raced to avert a catastrophe after fire broke out on Wednesday at a nuclear plant that has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and triggering growing international alarm at the escalating crisis.
RELATED:Japan Jews mobilize to raise funds for relief effortsHow much radiation exposure endangers health?
The operator of the quake-crippled plant said workers were trying to put out the blaze at the building housing the No.4 reactor of the nuclear facility in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Experts say spent fuel rods in a cooling pool at the reactor could be exposed by the fire and spew more radiation into the atmosphere. Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said two workers were missing after blasts at the facility a day earlier blew a hole in the building housing the No. 4 reactor.
In the first hint of international frustration at the pace of updates
from Japan, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic
Energy Agency, said he wanted more timely and detailed information.
"We do not have all the details of the information so what we can do is
limited," Amano told a news conference in Vienna. "I am trying to
further improve the communication."
The US Department of Energy said it had sent a team of 34 people to help Japan with the crisis.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday urged people within 30 km
(18 miles) of the facility -- a population of 140,000 -- to remain
indoors, as authorities grappled with the world's most serious nuclear
accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.
Officials in Tokyo said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal at
one point but not a threat to human health in the sprawling high-tech
city of 13 million people.
Toxicologist Lee Tin-lap at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said
such a radiation level was not an immediate threat to people but the
long-term consequences were unknown.
"You are still breathing this into your lungs, and there is passive
absorption in the skin, eyes and mouth and we really do not know what
long-term impact that would have," Lee told Reuters by telephone.
Winds over the plant will blow from the north along the Pacific coast
early on Wednesday and then from the northwest towards the ocean during
the day, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
In a sign of regional fears about the risk of radiation, China said it
would evacuate its citizens from areas worst affected but it had
detected no abnormal radiation levels at home. Air China said it had
canceled some flights to Tokyo.
The US Navy said some arriving warships would deploy on the west coast
of Japan's main Honshu island instead of heading to the east coast as
planned because of "radiological and navigation hazards".
Several embassies advised staff and citizens to leave affected areas in
Japan. Tourists cut short vacations and multinational companies either
urged staff to leave or said they were considering plans to move outside
The full extent of the destruction from last Friday's 9.0-magnitude
earthquake and the tsunami that followed it was becoming clear as
rescuers combed through the region north of Tokyo where officials say at
least 10,000 people were killed.
Whole villages and towns have been wiped off the map by Friday's wall of
water, triggering an international humanitarian effort of epic
proportions. A 6.4-magnitude aftershock -- a significant earthquake in
its own right on any other day -- shook buildings in Tokyo late on
Tuesday but caused no damage.
About 850,000 households in the north were still without electricity in
near-freezing weather, Tohuku Electric Power Co. said, and the
government said at least 1.5 million households lack running water. Tens
of thousands of people were missing.
Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist for Japan at Credit Suisse, said in
a note to clients that the economic loss will likely be around 14-15
trillion yen ($171-183 billion) just to the region hit by the quake and
The earthquake has forced many firms to suspend production and global
companies -- from semiconductor makers to shipbuilders -- face
disruptions to operations after the quake and tsunami destroyed vital
infrastructure, damaged ports and knocked out factories.
"The earthquake could have great implications on the global economic
front," said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at Lec
Securities in New York. "If you shut down Japan, there could be a global