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Fears of nuclear disaster mount in Japan

RIA Novosti

07:59 13/03/2011

MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - As large-scale rescue efforts are under way in Japan following Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami, the country has faced a growing threat from its troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant. A blast that destroyed the building of the plant's Number One reactor on Saturday has raised concerns of a possible Chernobyl-scale nuclear disaster.

The country's authorities have been trying to persuade the people that the troubled plant will not cause serious damage to their health, but fears remain in place, especially after media reports about growing radiation levels at Fukushima and 15 people hospitalized with radiation poisoning symptoms.

Disaster with 'local consequences'

The Japanese authorities have assigned the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant the level 4 on the international INES scale that runs from 1 (anomaly) to 7 (major accident). According to the IAEA's definition, a level-4 accident is defined as having "local consequences," such as a "minor release of radioactive material."

The blast ripped through the Fukushima Number One power station, about 250 km (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, on Saturday. The explosion destroyed the reactor turbine building, blowing away its walls and roof, but the local authorities said the reactor itself was not damaged. A steel container covering the reactor has protected it from the blast, they said.

Emergency at another reactor

The emergency cooling system has failed at another reactor at the Fukushima plant on Sunday, raising fears of a possible blast due to overheating. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Number Three reactor is in process of releasing radioactive steam.

It was the sixth reactor at the Fukushima plant to undergo cooling failure since Friday's disaster.

Edano acknowledged on Sunday that radiation levels have risen at the plant as venting of slightly radioactive steam continues in a bid to lower pressure in the container vessel and allow the pumping of cooling water.

"The rise in the radiation levels was within the expected range as we continue venting," Edano was quoted by the Nikkei website as saying.

No health concerns?

Edano said fluctuations in the radiation level can be expected in the area, but there are no health concerns.

Meanwhile, a Japanese nuclear safety panels said on Saturday radiation levels were 1,000 times higher than normal in a control room and eight times higher than normal just outside the plant.

Earlier on Saturday, the local authorities expanded the evacuation area around the plant from an earlier established 10-kilometer radius to a 20-kilometer radius and began handing out iodine, which helps protect the body from radioactive exposure, to residents of nearby areas.

More than 170,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the plant, media reports quoted officials as saying. The Fukushima prefecture authorities urged local residents to close windows, turn off air conditioners and stay at home.

Early on Sunday, the Kyodo news agency reported that at least 15 people had been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning following the accident.

Radiation level in Russia's Far East 'within norm'

Radiation levels in Russia's Far East remain within the norm following the nuclear accident in Japan, a spokesman for the Russian Emergencies Ministry's local branch said on Sunday.

Far Eastern meteorologists "have not registered any changes in radiation levels in the Sakhalin and Magadan regions, as well as in the Primorye, Khabarovsky and Kamchatsky territories," he said.

Regional meteorology services were put on high alert after the blast. Monitoring of radiation levels in the region is carried out every three hours, the spokesman said.

A representative of the Primorye meteorology service told RIA Novosti the normal radiation level in the region should not exceed 30 microroentgen per hour, while the current level was 12-14 microroentgen per hour.

Winds from Japan do not reach the region, being overridden by north-western winds from China, he said.

Voice of Russia helps find lost relatives

The number of victims of Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, and a subsequent tsunami may exceed 1,800, officials say, as thousands remain unaccounted for following the disaster. Rescue efforts continue in Japan's disaster-hit north-eastern areas.

Voice of Russia, the Russian state-run international radio station, has been conveying messages from overseas residents facing problems in contacting their relatives and friends in Japan after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The messages are accepted on a 24-hour telephone hotline and aired in Japanese, Russian, English and Chinese languages.

The hotline number is 7-495-9506484. Messages are also accepted via e-mail at letters@ruvr.ru.



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