Fears of radiation release after fire at Japan plant
The Japanese health ministry says radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant has reached a level where it poses a threat to human health. The UN atomic watchdog says a fire at spent fuel storage pond at the plant broke out on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has warned that the radiation could spread, after a third explosion followed by a fire hit a reactor at the plant on Tuesday. There are fears that low-level radiation levels may have reached as far as the capital Tokyo.
The explosions have also raised fears of a meltdown at the nuclear plant.
Four out of the six reactors at the plant are in trouble. Blasts have occurred at buildings housing the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors and their containment vessels after cooling systems were knocked out by the quake's tsunami.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation was released into the atmosphere on Tuesday after a fire broke out at a spent fuel storage pond of the nuclear plant. The nuclear watchdog later confirmed the fire was extinguished.
Authorities have evacuated non-essential staff from the Fukushima plant as engineers work around the clock to cool the nuclear reactors. Residents within 20 km of the plant have been asked to leave and people within 30 km of the plant have been asked to stay indoors.
The nuclear crisis was sparked by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which is expected to have claimed at least 10,000 lives.
Japan’s premier strongly has criticised the operator of the Fukushima plant, Kyodo News reported. "The TV reported an explosion. But nothing was said to the premier's office for about an hour," the agency quoted him as saying. "What the hell is going on?"
On Tuesday, panic selling sent Tokyo shares down over 10 percent on worries the nuclear crisis would become a catastrophe. The Nikkei index closed off 1,015.34 points at 8.605.15.
With ports, airports, highways and factories across Japan shut down, analysts say the impact on the Japanese economy is severe.