Situation at damaged nuclear power plant remains ‘very grave’, says Japanese Prime Minister

Two weeks after a disastrous earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the situation at the severely damaged Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant has been described by the Prime Minister as “very grave and serious”. In a nationally televised report to the nation on Friday, Naoto Kan said the Japanese government was “not in a position where we can be optimistic.”

Radiation is reported to still be leaking from the plant, in Fukushima prefecture. “The source of the radiation seems to be the reactor core,” said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama, adding that radiation was “more likely” coming from the core than from the reactor’s spent fuel pool.

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant pictured five days after the earthquake by Digital Globe.

On Thursday three workers stepped into contaminated cooling water in the reactor’s turbine room while trying to replace cables at reactor No. 3, Nishiyama said. The water seeped into the the boots of two of the workers, touching their skin and causing lesions; the third worker’s clothing protected him from the water. The two workers with skin lesions were hospitalized for radiation exposure. The radiation level of the contaminated water measured 10,000 times the level of cooling water in an undamaged reactor.

Work has been stopped on attempts to reattach a permanent power line to the cooling system in reactor No. 3, and the building has been evacuated. Nishiyama could give no predictions of when work would resume. The possibility that water is leaking from the core of reactor No. 3 increases the danger for workers who attempt to cool the crippled plant. The reactors must be cooled before more safety work can begin.

Japan had been using seawater for cooling since the disaster crippled the power plant’s cooling systems, but U.S. officials were concerned that saltwater could harm the equipment, causing it to seize up and corrode, thereby worsening the situation.

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Japan facing ‘most severe crisis since World War II’, says prime minister

Amongst the aftermath of a magnitude 8.9 earthquake which struck on Friday, followed by a tsunami, Naoto Kan, the current prime minister of Japan, has claimed that the country is experiencing its largest difficulties since the end of World War II in 1945.

“The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the past 65 years since World War II,” Kan stated. Speaking on television, he stated that “[w]hether we Japanese can overcome this crisis depends on each of us. I strongly believe that we can get over this great earthquake and tsunami by joining together.”

Sendai City after Tsunami.

Kan reported that there were limited supplies of electricity due to the closure of numerous power stations, including a nuclear power plant located in Fukushima Prefecture. According to NHK, a broadcasting organization in Japan, approximately 310,000 individuals have been transported to safety in shelters that, in various cases, do not contain electricity.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The Government of Japan has reported the deaths of one thousand individuals, although thousands of others have not been taken into account. The police have claimed that the death toll in the Miyagi Prefecture as a result of the earthquake and tsunami could be in excess of ten thousand. 100,000 troops – which equates to approximately 40% of the country’s armed forces – are said to have been committed to assisting with the survivors of the disasters.

The nuclear agency of Japan consider the circumstances at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant to be Level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which is an accident with local consequences. According to BBC News Online, incidents like this usually cause one person to die from causes related to radiation. No individuals from the power plant are reported to have died.

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