- Radiation leaking directly into the air from stricken Fukushima nuclear plant
- Explosion at Number Two reactor follows blasts at One and Three
- Radiation levels rise around Tokyo – readings up to ten times higher than normal 15 miles from capital
- Fire breaks out at Number Four reactor
- Fears for residents yet to make it outside 19-mile exclusion zone
- Stock markets in chaos as Nikkei plummets 10.5% in one day
There was growing panic in Japan today as a third massive explosion and a fire at a nuclear power station hit by the tsunami pushed the country to the brink of catastrophe.
The government was forced to to order 140,000 residents to seal themselves indoors today as more radioactive material was released into the atmosphere by the third explosion at the plant in four days and the fire at another reactor.
Radioactive material is leaking ‘directly’ into the air from the stricken plant at a rate of 400 milliseverts per hour, according to The International Atomic Energy Agency. Anyone exposed to over 100 millisieverts a year risks cancer.
Radiation levels were rising around Tokyo this morning, with readings up to ten times higher than normal in Chiba – 15 miles from the capital.
It is another dramatic escalation in the nuclear crisis facing the country after Friday’s tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant – leaving engineers struggling to stop the reactors overheating and avoid a catastrophic meltdown.
It is the world’s most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
All but 50 workers have been evacuated from the Fukushima plant, with the remaining employees frantically trying to keep pumping sea water into the reactors to cool them and control the fire. Although they have protective suits, they risk exposure to the dangerous levels of radiation.
In a televised address to the nation after the third explosion Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan confirmed radiation had been released into the atmosphere after blast at the Number Two reactor. The fire in the Number Four reactor was also said to be releasing radioactivity into the air.
It follows explosions at Number One and Number Three reactors.
The blaze in the spent fuel storage pond of Number Four reactor was put out today, but it was unclear if the radiation leak had been stopped.
There were also fears that the water inside the Number Four reactor may be boiling – which risks exposing nuclear fuel rods which in turn raises the risk of meltdown.
The exclusion zone around the reactor was extended to 19 miles this morning, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents in the danger 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,’ he said.
Prime Minister Mr Kan added: ‘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.’
Some 70,000 people had already been evacuated from a 12-mile radius around the Dai-ichi complex. About 140,000 remain in the new warning zone.
Western news reporters are also evacuating the area.
The disaster has caused chaos in the financial markets, with the Tokyo Stock Exchange closing down 10.5 per cent.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said: ‘Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health. These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening. Far away, the levels should be lower.’
Edano warned that there were signs that fuel rods were melting in all three reactors. ‘Although we cannot directly check it, it’s highly likely to be happening,’ he added.
Meanwhile, The French embassy in the capital warned in an advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo within 10 hours.
Experts said the nightmare scenario was of a meltdown which triggers a massive build-up of pressure inside the containment unit. If the unit cracks, a plume of radioactive dust and gas would spill hundreds of miles into the air.
Fears of that meltdown at a Japanese power plant rose sharply last night after the third explosion was reported in the complex. It is thought the new drama occurred because the explosion in the Number 3 reactor had damaged the cooling system in the adjoining reactor, resulting in last night’s third blast.