Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that radioactive levels have become high around an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant following a hydrogen explosion at the site and there was a high risk of radiation leaking into the atmosphere.
In a nationally televised address to the public, the prime minister urged people within 30 kilometers of the facility, located about 220 kilometers north of Tokyo, to remain indoors, not to collect washings hanging outside and to switch off air- conditioners to avoid air exchange with airborne radioactive substances.
"A worrisome situation remains but I hope to take the lead in overcoming this crisis," Kan said. "I will take all measures so that damage will not expand."
The prime minister also called for the people of the nation to "remain calm."
Kan's remarks followed an explosion at the troubled No. 2 reactor of the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant on Tuesday morning during which a critical container vessel was apparently damaged, according to the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Co. ( TEPCO).
The prime minister confirmed that the radiation level had risen substantially since the blast and the risk that radiation will leak has also increased.
The radiation level following the latest blast at the Fukushima No. 1 plant exceeded the legal limit to reach 965.5 micro sievert per hour at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday.
The reading then leapt to 8,217 micro sievert at 8:31 a.m., the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.
The latest levels reported radiation levels are more than eight times the 1,000 micro sievert level to which people can safely be exposed to in one year, the agency said.
Radiation was measured at 400 millisievert near the No.3 reactor and at 100 millisievert near the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima nuclear plant around midday, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that radiation levels around the troubled No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima plant were at levels considered "dangerous to humans," but said the readings came from the immediate vicinity of the reactor and levels would dissipate the further away from the reactor people were.
Local media reported that radiation of up to nine times the normal level were briefly detected in the Kanagawa Prefecture, part of the greater Tokyo region.
Adding to the escalating trouble at the Fukushima power plant, a fire at the plant's No. 4 reactor also occurred, with the first signs of the blaze sighted at around 9:40 a.m. local time, according to TEPCO.
However, Japan's nuclear safety agency says the fire has been brought under control and the effects of the blaze are being investigated.
Tuesday's explosion was the third at the faltering plant since it was damaged in last Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.
Since then, authorities have been trying to prevent meltdowns in all three of the Fukushima No. 1 plant's nuclear reactors, by flooding the chambers with sea water to cool them down.
Japan's central government has already asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the U.S. to aid the nation in managing its current nuclear crisis.
International nuclear watchdogs around the world are monitoring the situation closely and the U.K. and the U.S. have dispatched nuclear experts to the scene to help local authorities with the situation.
(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2011)