Japan on 'maximum alert' over plant
Published 29/03/2011 | 09:54
Japan is on "maximum alert" to bring its nuclear crisis under control, the prime minister has said.
Naoto Kan told parliament that Japan was grappling with its worst problems since the Second World War, saying: "This quake, tsunami and the nuclear accident are the biggest crises for Japan."
He warned the crises remained unpredictable, but added: "From now on, we will continue to handle it in a state of maximum alert."
The magnitude-9.0 offshore earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that slammed minutes later into Japan's north-east coastline, wiping out towns and knocking out power and backup systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Police said more than 11,000 bodies have been recovered, but the final death toll is expected to exceed 18,000. Hundreds of thousands remain homeless, their livelihoods destroyed. Damage could amount to $310bn (€220bn) - the most expensive natural disaster on record, the government said.
Against the backdrop of the humanitarian disaster, the drama at the power plant has continued to develop, with workers fighting fires, explosions, radiation scares and miscalculations in the frantic bid to prevent a complete meltdown.
The plant has been leaking radiation that has made its way into vegetables, raw milk and tap water as far away as Tokyo. Residents within 18km of the plant have been ordered to leave and some nations have banned the imports of food products from the Fukushima region.
Highly toxic plutonium was the latest contaminant found seeping into the soil outside the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company said.
Safety officials said the amounts did not pose a risk to humans, but the finding supports suspicions that dangerously radioactive water is leaking from damaged nuclear fuel rods.
Workers last week reconnected some parts of the plant to power but discovered pools of contaminated water in numerous spots. It has been emitting radiation of more than four times the amount thought safe for workers and must be pumped out before electricity can be restored to the cooling system. But workers must still pump water in to keep the fuel rods cool.