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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'They've lost control': French claim Japan is hiding full scale of nuclear disaster as emergency teams desperately fire water cannon at reactors from

By David Derbyshire

-Workers battling nuclear meltdown evacuated today after radiation levels increased
-Police water cannon commandeered to spray complex
-Attempts to dump water on reactors by helicopter fail
-6.0 magnitude aftershock off Chiba, east of Tokyo, causes further tremors today
-In Europe, 500 bone marrow transplant centres put on standby to treat victims from Japan
-The plant rocked by second fire in No 4 unit and two more explosions, bringing the total to four
-France’s Nuclear Safety Authority ranks crisis second only in gravity to Chernobyl in 1986

Damaged: This dramatic pictures shows for the first time the damage wreaked upon the Fukushima plant which was today shrouded in smoke and steam bellowing from the damaged third and fourth reactors

Japan's stricken nuclear power plant was abandoned today, as soaring radiation forced emergency workers to flee for their lives and authorities were reduced to spraying reactors with water cannon from afar.

All 50 emergency workers who had been fighting to keep overheating reactors cool were pulled back 500 yards from the complex as radiation levels became too dangerous.

And in an extraordinary attack, the French government accused the Japanese of losing control of the situation and hiding the full scale of the disaster.

Military helicopters made a failed attempt to drop water on the reactors from above, amid desperate efforts to cool nuclear fuel. Police water cannons usually used in riot control were even requested to spray the site from long range.

The emergency teams had been pumping sea water into reactors using fire engines, but those efforts are thought to have stopped as the workers were pulled out.

Fears of 'an apocalypse' were raised by European officials as radiation levels soared . In another attack, French Industry Minister Eric Besson said:'Let's not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it's not what they are saying.'

In a sign of mounting panic, Cabinet Secretary Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has already warned that the long-range cooling efforts may not work.

He said: 'It's not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems.' The emergency workers are reportedly preparing to return to the complex.

Destroyed: Damage after an earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, is seen in this satellite image taken 9:35 am local time (0035 GMT)

Crisis: A cloud of white smoke can be seen rising from the nuclear power plant today as workers battling to control the chaos were evacuated after soaring radiation levels

Desperate measures: A Japanese military helicopter scoops water from the Pacific, which it later attempted to drop on overheating reactors

More than 140,000 residents within 19 miles of the plant were ordered to stay indoors - in addition to the 180,000 already evacuated from the immediate area. Terrified families clogged roads as they tried to flee.

And The French government urged its nationals living in Tokyo to leave the country or head to southern Japan due to the risk of radiation from an earthquake-crippled nuclear power plant to the north of the capital.

The French embassy in Tokyo said in a statement that its advisory applied with immediate effect to those French nationals who were not obliged to remain in the city. It added that it had asked Air France to mobilise planes currently in Asia to evacuate French citizens, and two were already on their way.

On Tuesday, a fire broke out in the same reactor's fuel storage pond - an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool - causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere. TEPCO said the new blaze erupted because the initial fire had not been fully extinguished.

The turn of events caused European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger to warn that Tokyo had almost lost control of events. ‘There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen,’ he told the European Parliament.

But just before 4am this morning the Japanese government said that the fire which had raged for around seven hours had been brought under control.

The Japanese government later ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear power complex today amid a surge in radiation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers, who have been dousing the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilise their temperatures, had no choice but to pull back from the most dangerous areas.

Screening: A woman is checked with a Geiger counter at a public welfare centre in Hitachi City, Ibaraki

Extreme measures: There are temporaryradiation cleaning shelter, set up by across the affected area including Nihonmatsu city in Fukushima

Potentially exposed: Women, one holding her dog, are scanned for radiation at a temporary evacuation centre for residents living near the Fukushima plant

'The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,' Mr Edano said, as smoke billowed above the crippled complex. 'Because of the radiation risk we are on stand-by.'

Mr Edano warned that helicopters drafted in to tackle the nuclear spills may not work. He said: 'It's not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,' he said.

'We are actually supplying water from the ground, but supplying water from above involves pumping lots of water and that involves risk. We also have to consider the safety of the helicopters above,' he said.

Testing: Workers in protective white suits screen worried evacuees at a radiation contamination centre yesterday

Life and death: A woman reacts to news that a relative has died, left, and a baby is checked for signs of radiation, right

The alarm spread worldwide. In Europe, some 500 bone marrow transplant centres were put on standby to treat any victims from Japan. And in India, officials demanded that imported Japanese goods be screened for radiation contamination.

The plant was yesterday rocked by a fire and two more explosions - bringing the total to four. One damaged the concrete and steel walls protecting reactor 2 – as concerns grew that the casing could split and potentially send out a cloud of dangerous radiation.

Aftershocks continue to hit the country, and a 6.0 magnitude tremor struck in the Pacific just off Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, today, raised concerns that further damage would be caused to the already-weakened container walls of four reactors at the Fukushima plant.

Hajimi Motujuku, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), said the outer housing of the containment vessel at the No 4 unit at the complex caught fire.

Bustle: Passengers wait to leave at the Tokyo International Airport, some on any plane they can

Chaos: Smoke and steam billows from the damaged third and fourth reactors at the Fukushima plant, while right, hundreds of drivers desperate to flee the region pile on to the roads

At risk: Evacuees from the 18-mile radius around the plant are screened for radiation exposure at a testing centre yesterday

Efforts to cool overheating reactors were temporarily suspended after the levels were deemed dangerous to human health.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers, who were dousing the reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilize their temperatures, had no choice except to withdraw.

'The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,' Edano said. 'Because of the radiation risk we are on standby.' Radiation levels had gone down later in the day but it was not immediately clear if the workers had been allowed back in.

Meanwhile, France’s Nuclear Safety Authority said the disaster now equated to a six on the seven-point international scale for nuclear accidents, ranking the crisis second only in gravity to Chernobyl in 1986.

The authority’s chief Andre-Claude Lacoste said: ‘It is very clear that we are at a level six. We are clearly in a catastrophe.’

In desperation, Tokyo Electric Power, which is responsible for the Fukushima plant, asked U.S. helicopters to drop water on to the building in an attempt to cool a reactor, as radiation levels are too high for people to approach it.

Levels at the site peaked at a dangerous 400 millisieverts yesterday – four times the level that can trigger cancer. However, they had fallen again by the end of the day. Japan ordered a 30-mile no fly zone over the exclusion zone to stop the spread of radiation.



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