BREAKING NEWS: Fukushima Daiichi, Japan: Staff Evacuated From Nuclear Plant: UPDATED

16 Mar

Japan has withdrawn all of its workers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, saying it is too dangerous after a surge in radiation.

Staff Evacuated From Japanese Nuclear Plant Play video

The decision comes after a second fire broke out in number 4 reactor after a prior blaze had not been properly extinguished.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers dousing the reactors in a frantic effort to cool them needed to withdraw.

“The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,” Edano said.

The latest fire is believed to have started in the outer housing of the reactor’s containment vessel.

The flames were brought under control but white smoke or steam has been seen rising from the facility in the northeast of the earthquake and tsunami devastated country.

Officials have been struggling to address the failure of safety systems at several of the plant’s reactors.

There are six reactors at the plant, and the three that were operating at the time have been rocked by explosions. 

The one on fire was offline at the time of the magnitude 9.0 quake, Japan’s most powerful on record.

Two workers are missing after an explosion at the plant on Tuesday.

It is believed they were working in the turbine area of reactor number four at the time of the blast.

The government has ordered some 140,000 people in the vicinity to stay indoors.

Those living less than 12 miles (20km) from the site have been told to evacuate.

A low level of radiation was also detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.

Meanwhile Japan’s nuclear agency has said that around 70% of the nuclear fuel rods in unit 1 reactor have been damaged.

Minoru Ohgoda said: “We don’t know the nature of the damage, and it could be either melting, or there might be some holes in them.”

The Kyodo news agency said 33% of the fuel rods at a second reactor were also damaged.

On Tuesday the country’s prime minister Naoto Kan said radiation levels on the east coast had “risen considerably”.

The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the damage caused by the two natural disasters that killed an estimated 10,000 people.

It has also led to a worldwide review of thinking about nuclear technology.

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By Shinichi Saoshiro and Chisa Fujioka Shinichi Saoshiro And Chisa Fujioka :

TOKYO (Reuters) – Workers were ordered to withdraw briefly from a stricken Japanese nuclear power plant on Wednesday after radiation levels surged, a development that suggested the crisis was spiraling out of control.

Just hours earlier another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled facility, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fear in the capital and international alarm.

Workers were trying to build a road so fire trucks could reach reactor No. 4. Flames were no longer visible at the building housing the reactor, but TV pictures showed rising smoke or steam. A helicopter was also preparing to pour water on to No. 3 reactor — whose roof was damaged by an earlier explosion — to try to cool its fuel rods, broadcaster NHK said.

Nuclear experts said the solutions being proposed to quell radiation leaks at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles north of Tokyo, were last-ditch efforts to stem what could well be remembered as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

“This is a slow-moving nightmare,” said Dr Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at the Center for International Studies, which is part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Panic over the economic impact of last Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami knocked $620 billion off Japan’s stock market over the first two days of this week, but the Nikkei index rebounded on Wednesday to end up 5.68 percent.

Nevertheless, estimates of losses to Japanese output from damage to buildings, production and consumer activity ranged from between 10 and 16 trillion yen ($125-$200 billion), up to one-and-a-half times the economic losses from the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Damage to Japan’s manufacturing base and infrastructure is also threatening significant disruption to the global supply chain, particularly in the technology and auto sectors.

Scores of flights to Japan have been halted or rerouted, air travelers are avoiding Tokyo for fear of radiation, and on Wednesday France urged its nationals in the city either to leave Japan or head to the south of the country.

The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the quake and devastating tsunami that followed worsened overnight following a cold snap that brought snow to some of the worst-affected areas.

While the death toll stands at around 4,000, more than 7,000 are listed as missing and the figure is expected to rise.

At the Fukushima plant, authorities have spent days desperately trying to prevent water which is designed to cool the radioactive cores of the reactors from evaporating, which would lead to overheating and possibly a dangerous meltdown.

Concern now centers on damage to a part of the No.4 reactor building where spent rods were being stored in pools of water, and also to part of the No.2 reactor that helps to cool and trap the majority of cesium, iodine and strontium in its water.

Japanese officials said they were talking to the U.S. military about possible help at the plant.

Concern mounted earlier that the skeleton crews dealing with the crisis might not be big enough or were exhausted after working for days since the earthquake damaged the facility. Authorities withdrew 750 workers on Tuesday, leaving only 50.

All those remaining were pulled out for almost an hour on Wednesday because radiation levels were too high, but they were later allowed to return.

Arnie Gundersen, a 39-year veteran of the nuclear industry, now chief engineer at Fairwinds Associates Inc and who worked on reactor designs similar to Daiichi plant, said 50 or so people could not babysit six nuclear plants.

“That evacuation (of 750 workers) is a sign they may be throwing in the towel,” Gundersen said.

RADIATION IN TOKYO NOT A THREAT TO HUMAN HEALTH

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.”

Several experts said the Japanese authorities were underplaying the severity of the incident, particularly on a scale called INES used to rank nuclear incidents. The Japanese have so far rated the accident a four on a one-to-seven scale, but that rating was issued on Saturday and since then the situation has worsened dramatically.

France’s nuclear safety authority ASN said on Tuesday it should be classed as a level-six incident.

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.

Levels dropped to minimal on Wednesday, but nerves were shaken by a 6.0 earthquake which shook buildings.

But residents nevertheless reacted to the crisis by staying indoors. Public transport and the streets were as deserted as they would be on a public holiday, and many shops and offices were closed.

Winds over the plant were forecast to blow from the northwest during Wednesday, which would take radiation toward the Pacific Ocean.

Fears of transpacific nuclear fallout sent consumers scrambling for radiation antidotes in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada. Authorities warned that people would expose themselves to other medical problems by needlessly taking potassium iodide in the hope of protection from cancer.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

Japanese media have became more critical of Kan’s handling of the disaster and criticized the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. for their failure to provide enough information on the incident.

“This government is useless,” Masako Kitajima, a Tokyo office worker in her 50s, said as radiation levels ticked up in the city.

Kan himself lambasted the operator for taking so long to inform his office about one of the blasts on Tuesday. A Kyodo news agency reporter quoted the prime minister demanding the power company executives: “What the hell is going on?.”

Nuclear radiation is an especially sensitive issue for Japanese following the country’s worst human catastrophe — the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The full extent of the destruction from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami 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 the wall of water, triggering an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.

There have been hundreds of aftershocks and more than two dozen were greater than magnitude 6, the size of the earthquake that severely damaged Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

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.

NHK offered tips on how to stay warm, for instance by wrapping your abdomen in newspaper and clingfilm, and how to boil water using empty aluminum cans and candles.

Most economists now believe that the Japanese economy, which had been starting to recover when the earthquake struck, will contract in the second quarter of 2011.

A few economists also flagged the risk of a prolonged disruption to consumers and companies and a decline in economic output through 2011 should power outages persist until December.

Prices for key tech components such as computer memory chips have spiked due to factory outages at companies including electronics giant Sony Corp, silicon wafter maker Shin-Etsu Chemical and Toshiba, a major supplier of NAND flash memory chips used in mobile devices.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Linda sieg, Risa Maeda, Isabel Reynolds, Dan Sloan and Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Chris Meyers and Kim Kyung-hoon in Sendai, Taiga Uranaka and Ki Joon Kwon in Fukushima, Noel Randewich in San Francisco, and Miyoung Kim in Seoul; Writing by David Fox and Nick Macfie; Editing by John Chalmers and Dean Yates).

NEWS UPDATE:

0745 GMT: In a rare public address on live television, Emperor Akihito has said he is praying for the safety of the people in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. “The number of people killed is increasing day by day and we do not know how many people have fallen victim,” Akihito said in a brief speech. “I pray for the safety of as many people as possible.”

A toy lies in front of a destroyed house in the devastated city of Ofunato Enlarge photo

0727 GMT: Our correspondents in Japan say television images are showing a Japanese army helicopter on its way to dump water on the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

0711 GMT: Frank Zeller in our Tokyo bureau reports: “In order to save electricity in disaster-struck Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co said three-hour power outages Wednesday would affect 10.89 million households — more than one-third of the 28 million households the company services in Tokyo and seven prefectures in northern and eastern Japan.”

0638 GMT: Our Tokyo bureau reports that Japan’s defence ministry plans to send military reservists to help relief efforts in the northeast, where thousands remain missing.

0628 GMT: Tokyo shares closed up 5.68 percent today on bargain hunting following a huge two-day selloff, as Japan scrambled to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.

0619 GMT: Shares in TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant at the centre of Japan’s escalating atomic crisis, fell 24.57 percent in Tokyo trade on Wednesday.

0609 GMT: Hoax news alerts warning that the Philippines would be hit with radiation from Japan’s damaged nuclear power plant have sparked anger and confusion, with panicked schools sending their pupils home, our Manila bureau reports.

– The hoax news alerts started spreading via text messages on the Philippines’ hyperactive mobile phone networks on Monday. One alert, purportedly issued by the BBC news network warned people to stay indoors, close doors and windows, and swab their necks with antiseptic to protect their thyroid glands.

0555 GMT: Two Chinese airlines have added flights to and from Japan to accommodate an expected increase in demand as China evacuates its nationals from the quake-hit nation’s disaster zone, AFP’s Beijing bureau reports.

– The state-run China National Radio also reported that two ships able to transport a total of 4,000 people were on standby in the eastern city of Yantai and planned to sail on Wednesday to bring back Chinese citizens.

0530 GMT: The mayor of Koriyama city, Masao Hara, told AFP that the town desperately needs help for thousands of evacuees sheltered there.

– “We have received many people who were evacuated from the area near the plant.” Hara said. “Right now some 9,000 people are at shelters in Koriyama,” , including 200 at a baseball stadium which was recently renovated to receive disaster evacuees. “What we urgently need now is fuel, heavy and light oil, water and food. More than anything else, we need fuel because we can’t do anything without it. We can’t stay warm or work the water pumps.

0523 GMT: Hong Kong bureau reports that the city widened its top-level black travel alert to three more Japanese prefectures after explosions at a nuclear plant in the quake-stricken country deepened concerns of a meltdown.

– The warning, announced late Tuesday, advises Hong Kong citizens to avoid travel to affected areas amid rising concerns about dangerous radiation seeping from the stricken facility about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

0514 GMT: In its latest update the national police agency has placed the death toll at 3,676 confirmed dead, with the total number of people unaccounted for rising by more than 800 to 7,558, and the number of injured at 1,990.

0442 GMT: The credit quality of Japanese firms may suffer if the country struggles to recover from the impact of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, according to Standard and Poor’s. The ratings agency says it expects a bigger fallout from the disasters than the Kobe earthquake that struck in 1995 because of the unpredictable effects of a nuclear crisis in the disaster-hit region in northeastern Japan.

0440 GMT: Australian tsunami expert Ray Canterford told AFP today that the images of the disastrous tsunami rolling onto Japan last week will provide valuable data to scientists for years to come.

– Canterford said while scientists had made progress on predicting tsunamis since the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean disaster in which some 220,000 people died, there was still work to be done.

0410 GMT: AFP’s Sydney bureau reports that two Australian search and rescue personnel showed low levels of radiation contamination after their helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in Fukushima today. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said contamination was detected on their boots after ice on the helicopter blades forced them to land some 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant.

0400 GMT: Strong quake shakes buildings in Tokyo

0359 GMT: Authorities in China say they will step up checks of incoming travellers and goods for possible radiation contamination as Japan’s quake-triggered nuclear crisis escalated.

0352 GMT: AFP’s Kelly Macnamara reports from Minamisanriku on the search for the missing: – Tomeko Sato has sent days looking for 10 missing relatives in the wasteland once called home. “I haven’t been able to get in contact with them. I’m very worried about them,” said Sato, 54, who lost her home in the disaster. “I was very surprised by the power of the tsunami… next time, I will live on the hill and hope it never happens again.”

Takashi Takashita, commander of a fire and rescue unit working in the area, told Macnamara that about 8,000 people were still unaccounted for, and while hopes of finding survivors are nearly extinguished, he is not ready to give up. “The chances of finding people alive are slim, but we want to try to find missing people, not bodies.”

0345 GMT: The Seoul bureau of AFP reports that South Korea plans to send an emergency shipment of cooling material to Japan to help control its quake-damaged nuclear reactors.

0338 GMT: The government has just announced that it is ready to ask for US military help to battle the nuclear emergency.

0335 GMT: A resident of Akita in northwest Japan, Takana Takegawa, told AFP she is stocking up on essentials as the spectre of a nuclear catastrophe looms large. “There will be a supply shortage now. There will not be any more meat or fish, so I bought some,” Takegawa said. “At first, I heard that there would not be any health concerns, but how long will this last? I would like to receive clear information.”

0325 GMT: The workers battling to contain the crisis at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have all temporarily been evacuated because of a rise in radiation levels, a nuclear safety agency official has said.

– “Around 10:40 am (0140 GMT) we ordered the evacuation of workers… due to the rise in (radioactivity) data around the gate” of the plant, the official said at a televised press conference.

0254 GMT: AFP correspondent Olivia Hampton adds on the desperate search for petrol: Two hours after leaving the hotel the team was finally able to buy petrol, “we now have enough fuel to reach the hard-hit east coast. On our way out of Akita, we passed more gas stations, this time with queues stretching for some five kilometres and only getting longer. We’re now passing through the mountains on our way east.”

0252 GMT: A new government statement says a reactor containment vessel at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant may have suffered damage.

0237 GMT: Update on AFP team’s struggle to cover the devastation in Japan (Mie Kohiyama, Rosland Abdul Rahman and Olivia Hampton).

– Before heading east to disaster zone, Olivia Hampton reports: “we jumped into a taxi cab and had the driver guide us to different stations in and around the city. The rental car company would only provide half a tank of gas and supplies are running short. Station after station we passed were eerily empty, cordoned off with a panel reading “sold out” in big black and red characters. In the outskirts of the city, a few stations are still open but dozens of cars have formed long queues. We take our chances with one station. Here as in every other station, big yellow signs with blue and red characters warn customers they are limited to 20 litres per car. After waiting for about an hour and with just 10 cars in front of us, staff close their station and redirect traffic elsewhere. Despite all the frustration, there were no signs of road rage.”

0231 GMT: Radiation levels rose Wednesday at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant but later fell, the chief government spokesman said.

0222 GMT: The credit quality of Japanese firms may suffer if the country struggles to recover from last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, Standard and Poor’s said Wednesday.

0214 GMT: An AFP correspondent reports: “Just found an open supermarket in a suburb of Ichinoseki, one of the first we?ve seen to allow people inside. It was packed and shelves were emptying fast.”

0155 GMT: On the ground in Tokyo AFP’s David Watkins says: “Commuters still heading to work in Tokyo Wednesday morning but city is certainly quieter than usual. The number of people sporting paper face masks has shot up despite the fact that the maks are absolutely useless in the event of spiking radiation levels. More cyclists on the roads too, after reports of a run on bike shops in the city following the quake Friday.”

0147 GMT: 112 countries and regions and 24 international organizations have offered assistance in the rescue and recovery efforts, says Japan’s foreign ministry says, our Tokyo correspondent Frank Zeller reports.

0137 GMT: Our correspondent Olivia Hampton reports from the northwestern city of Akita about a run on petrol stations. “On our way out of the city, we saw even bigger queues stretching for five kilometres-plus.”

0130 GMT: In Rome AFP?s reporter Gildas Le Roux says Italian officials are battling opposition to the planned re-introduction of atomic power abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster. “Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made nuclear energy a key part of his platform despite widespread public opposition even before Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan.”

– Rome wants to start building nuclear power stations from 2014 and to produce a quarter of its electricity with atomic energy by 2030.

0129 GMT: Live TV footage shows a cloud of white smoke rising above the Japanese nuclear power plant.

0119 GMT: Japan’s foreign ministry has told the media that eight experts from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission will arrive today to help Japan battle its nuclear crisis.

– They will provide technical advice on managing the situation at the Fukushima No 1 atomic power plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

0035 GMT: AFP’s Washington bureau reports that US right-wing radio host and television presenter Glenn Beck has been blasted by other American celebrities and the media for calling the monster quake that rocked Japan a message from God.

– Actress, author and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg said Beck should “check the mirror” if he thought Friday’s 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami were signs of God’s anger with mankind.

0030 GMT: The Bank of Japan has pumped another 3.5 trillion yen ($43.3 bln) into the financial system, adding to the trillions spent Monday and Tuesday to soothe shaken markets.

0015 GMT: AFP Japan bureau reports that Tokyo shares were 6.05 percent higher early on Wednesday, following the biggest two-day sell-off on the Nikkei index for 24 years on fears of the threat of a nuclear meltdown after a huge earthquake.

0010 GMT: Our correspondent in Japan Shingo Ito reports that a fresh fire broke out at the Fukushima Daiichiatomic power plant early Wednesday, compounding Japan’s nuclear crisis. The blaze at the number-four reactor reportedly went out of its own accord later, the state atomic safety agency said.

0000 GMT: AFP’s Hong Kong office is taking over our Live Report on the developing situation in Japan, with reports from correspondents on the ground and witness accounts.

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Staff Evacuated From Japanese Nuclear Plant Play video

Evacuation From Japanese Nuclear Plant Enlarge photo

Atomic crisis deepens in disaster-struck Japan

Q+A – What’s happening at Japan’s nuclear power plant 

Video: Staff Evacuated From Japanese Nuclear Plant

A toy lies in front of a destroyed house in the devastated city of Ofunato Enlarge photo

A message board for loved ones in Sendai, Japan Enlarge photo

A pump attendant holds a placard telling motorists not to queue up outside a petrol …More Enlarge photo

A rescue worker searches for missing residents in Minamisanriku Enlarge photo

Scene in the wake of the tsunami Enlarge photo

Workers abandon Japan nuclear plant

Nuclear crisis deepens in disaster-struck Japan

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