SHIZUOKA, Japan | A quiet exodus from Tokyo began on Tuesday after another explosion and a fire at a nuclear-power plant in Fukushima sent radiation levels above normal in the capital and in other prefectures in the north and east of Japan.
Many fleeing Tokyo residents said they could no longer tolerate tremors jolting them out of bed, four days after the strongest earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history struck Friday, followed by a raging tsunami that may have claimed as many as 10,000 lives.
Many feared that a cloud of nuclear radiation could drift from the plant 170 miles northeast of the capital toward the Kanto Plain, home to about 30 million people in a vast metropolis including Tokyo and Yokohama.
The Tokyo metropolitan government said radiation levels surged to 23 times the normal level Tuesday in the capital.
“The possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a TV address Tuesday morning. “We are making every effort to prevent the leak from spreading. I know that people are very worried, but I would like to ask you to act calmly.”
He said radiation spread from the four battered nuclear reactors of the Dai-ichi power plant in Fukushima prefecture, after an explosion in Unit 2 and a fire in Unit 4 on Tuesday.
The fire in a fuel-storage pond, where nuclear rods are cooled, sent radioactive gases into the air. Two workers were missing after the Tuesday blast.
“Radioactivity is being released directly into the atmosphere,” a Japanese official told the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Early Wednesday, another fire broke out at the Dai-ichi Unit 4, according to a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., elaborating that the new fire was the result of the earlier fire not having been completely extinguished.
Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said later Wednesday morning that the flames had been put out, though smoke was still visible on Japanese TV and video feeds.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the nuclear plant, said it could not rule out a meltdown, which would release radioactive material into snowstorms forecast for northern Japan. The company pulled out 750 workers, leaving just 50, and the government imposed a no-fly zone around the reactors.
More U.S. military crews on rescue missions were exposed to low-levels of radiation and decontaminated. The USS Reagan aircraft carrier strike group, which includes seven other ships, flew 29 missions Tuesday to deliver 17 tons of food and supplies.
The Russian Embassy in Tokyo said it is expecting a worst-case scenario of radioactive leakage. Joining several European embassies in advising citizens to leave the capital region, China said it will fly home Chinese from devastated areas, while the Indonesian government said it flew home 99 of its citizens living in the hard-hit Miyagi prefecture.
In Tokyo, increasing numbers of Japanese left the city, but there was no panicky mass exodus.View Entire Story
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