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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Evacuation at Fukushima plant after smoke seen at reactor

From correspondents in Osaka 

Radiation fears rise

Radiation levels in Sendai were found to be four times higher than areas further north while evacuees fleeing the Fukushima area are checke...
World Japan Rescue
Still from Japanese NTV showing a rescue from the debris caused by the Tsunami a 80-year-old-women, Sumi Abe, and her 16-year-old grandson, Jin Abe, from the district Kadowaki in the city Ishinomaki in North east coast of Japan / File
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World Japan Rescue
Still from Japanese NTV showing a rescue from the debris caused by the Tsunami a 80-year-old-women, Sumi Abe, and her 16-year-old grandson, Jin Abe, from the district Kadowaki in the city Ishinomaki in North east coast of Japan / File
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WORKERS were evacuated today after smoke was seen billowing from the No. 3 reactor at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, its operator said.
No other information is yet available.
Earlier today, food contaminated with radiation was found for the first time outside Japan - where milk and spinach have already been tainted by a plume from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant - as Taiwan detected radioactivity in a batch of imported Japanese fava beans.
The discovery of traces of radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water, well to the south-west of the crippled atomic power plant on the Pacific coast, compounded public anxiety, but authorities said there was no danger to health.
Cooling systems meant to protect the Fukushima plant's six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown were knocked out by the massive tsunami, and engineers have since been battling to control rising temperatures.
Radiation-suited crews have been striving to restore electricity to the ageing facility 250km north-east of Tokyo, after extending a high-voltage cable into the site from the national grid.
"Our desperate efforts to prevent the situation worsening are making certain progress," said chief government spokesman Yukio Edano.
"But we must not underestimate this situation, and we are not being optimistic that things will suddenly improve," he said.
Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said the temperature in all spent fuel-rod pools at the facility had dropped below 100 degrees Celsius - suggesting water-cooling operations were having some effect.
Authorities said reactors five and six at the Fukushima complex meanwhile were in "stable condition", Kyodo News reported.
Six workers at the plant have been exposed to high levels of radiation but are continuing to work and have suffered no health problems, TEPCO said.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan was to visit a staging ground for the Fukushima relief efforts today, as well as the city of Ishinomaki, where the two survivors were found.
Two found alive
"An 80-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy were found under debris," said a police spokesman in the devastated city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture.
"Their temperatures were quite low but they were conscious. Details of their condition are not immediately known. They have been already rescued and sent to hospital."
Sumi Abe and her grandson Jin Abe were in the kitchen when the quake struck on March 11, public broadcaster NHK reported. The house collapsed with them inside but the grandson was able to reach food from the refrigerator, helping them to survive.
There have been few such miracle rescues, with almost 21,000 people confirmed as dead or listed as missing following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and giant tsunami which flattened Japan's northeast coast on March 11.
Freezing temperatures and snow have hampered rescue operations.
With half a million tsunami survivors huddled in threadbare, chilly shelters and the threat of disaster at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant stretching frayed nerves, the mood in the world's third-biggest economy remains grim.
Aftershocks fuel terror
According to the charity Save the Children, about 100,000 children were displaced by the quake and tsunami, and signs of trauma are evident among young survivors as the nuclear crisis and countless aftershocks fuel their terror.
"We found children in desperate conditions, huddling around kerosene lamps and wrapped in blankets," Save the Children spokesman Ian Woolverton said after visiting a number of evacuation centres.
"They told me about their anxieties, especially their fears about radiation," Mr Woolverton said, adding that several youngsters had mentioned the US atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which they know from school.
The government has insisted that there is no widespread threat of radiation. But the discovery of the tainted fava beans by Taiwanese customs officers will do nothing to calm public anxiety that has already spread far beyond Japan.
Several governments in Asia have begun systematic radiation checks on made-in-Japan goods, as well as of passengers arriving on flights from the country.
But Tsai Shu-chen of Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration stressed the radioactive iodine and caesium-137 found on the fava beans were well below legal safety levels.
In the disaster epicentre, authorities have been battling to get more fuel and food to survivors enduring freezing temperatures.
At shelters, some grandparents are telling children stories of how they overcame hardships in their childhood during and after World War II, which left Japan in ruins.
"We have to live at whatever cost," said Shigenori Kikuta, 72.
"We have to tell our young people to remember this and pass on our story to future generations, for when they become parents themselves."
There was better news for residents in Rikuzentakata, where construction teams began erecting 36 prefabricated units, the first of many more temporary houses being built for the tsunami homeless.
"They won't be very big, but whatever they are, it will be better than being in here," said great-grandmother Tokiko Kanno, who has been sleeping on a school stage.

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