Apocalypse warning as radiation levels soar
Over 140,000 people near plant told to stay indoors
Published 16/03/2011 | 05:00
JAPAN'S ongoing nuclear emergency was compared to an "apocalypse" by the European Union's energy commissioner last night as dangerous levels of radiation were detected around the crippled power plant.
More than 140,000 people living up to 19 miles away from the power station were warned to stay indoors and lock windows as the Japanese government announced that radiation levels were high enough to damage human health.
As officials tried to bring the escalating problem under control, they said they were contemplating using helicopters to spray water over the plant in an attempt to prevent the spread of radioactive particles.
A third explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi complex is believed to have damaged the protective casing of No 2 reactor, increasing radiation levels sharply in the surrounding area.
At one point, readings near the plant briefly topped 400 millisieverts (mSv) an hour, a level high enough to cause radiation sickness and long-term damage to health if workers had not been wearing protective suits.
The levels in Tokyo, almost 180 miles away, were also recorded as being up to 10 times the norm for a period.
As the Japanese government called for international help, an EU meeting of energy ministers was told that Japan had lost control of the situation.
Guenther Oettinger, Europe's energy commissioner, 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."
A grim-faced Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister, said on television: "The possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening. 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."
But he also expressed anger with executives at the company running the Fukushima plant for failing to inform him of the explosions. At one point he was quoted as saying, "What the hell is going on?" as he was forced to watch developments on television.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, disclosed yesterday that there had been four explosions since Friday's earthquake knocked out power at the 40-year-old power station.
Three blasts were heard by locals, but it was more than 20 hours before it emerged that a fire at a fourth reactor occurred after another explosion at daybreak on Tuesday, local time.
Back-up diesel generators, which were supposed to keep the reactor cores cool, failed when the 10-metre tsunami swept through the region.
With temperatures rising within the reactors, engineers fought to prevent a catastrophic meltdown. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was possible that the fuel cores had been damaged in the explosions, increasing the possibility of a full-scale meltdown.
Japan's nuclear safety agency said that two workers were missing after yesterday's explosion at one of the reactors.
The agency did not identify the missing workers, but said they were in the turbine area of the No 4 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant damaged by last Friday's earthquake and tsunami.
The agency official also told a news conference there was a crack in the roof of the reactor building.
Authorities are desperately trying to prevent the water which is designed to cool the radioactive cores of the plant's reactors from running dry, which would lead to overheating and the release of dangerous radioactive material.
It was possible the water in the reactor was boiling, the agency said.
Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, confirmed radiation levels were at worryingly high levels. He told residents in the exclusion zone: "Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. These are figures that potentially affect health. There is no mistake about that."
The US navy reported that a number of its helicopter crew helping with the relief operation had shown signs of low levels of radiation contamination. Officials said 70 workers at the Fukushima complex also received high radiation doses.
Last night survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki criticised the government's response. Haruhide Tamamoto (80) said: "I want them to have more of a sense of crisis. I think they're taking this situation so lightly."
In Europe, 500 bone marrow transplant centres are on standby to treat radiation victims. (© Daily Telegraph, London)