Japan has told the U.N. nuclear watchdog radioactivity was being released "directly" into the atmosphere from the site of an earthquake-stricken reactor and that it had put out a fire at a spent fuel storage pond there.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), citing information it had received from Japanese authorities at 0350 GMT, said on Tuesday dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour have been reported at the Fukushima power plant site.
It did not give details or comparisons on the radiation level but exposure to over 100 millisieverts a year is a level which can lead to cancer, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials.
In a brief address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds were sweeping most of the plume of radioactivity out into the Pacific Ocean, rather than over populated areas.
The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.
It diminished hopes earlier in the day that engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, might yet succeed in cooling down the most damaged of the reactors, No. 2, by pumping in sea water. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while the same crews battled to put out the fire at No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.