Tokyo Exodus Begins as Japanese Try to Dodge Nuclear Disaster

Mar 17, 2011, 13:40

In Tokyo, the scenes are unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of people are in effect creating a mass exodus as they look to flee the country and avoid being caught up in a nuclear disaster.

Efforts to cool spent fuel rods at Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plant became more urgent Thursday, rousing fears of a full-blown nuclear emergency.

Attempts to cool the overheated No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began with helicopters dousing water, followed by fire trucks of the military forces and a police water cannon truck Thursday.

In all, Kyodo news said, up to 64 tons of water were aimed at the crippled plant.

Because vapor was seen rising from the No. 3 reactor, that could mean that the measures "went some way toward cooling down" the pool, Kyodo reports. Yet no major changes were seen in radioactive levels at the plant immediately afterward, Kyodo said.

"Nobody can be reassured of what's happening there. It's a nuclear disaster of the first order," Philip Lloyd, professor at the Energy Institute at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa, told the BBC Thursday.

Given the high levels of radiation at the plant, "they're doing as much as they can," Lloyd said of the efforts.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said radiation levels Thursday night at the site were 3,600 microsieverts per hour, slightly lower than those recorded in the morning. That level is about four times the maximum annual exposure recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While Japan is maintaining an evacuation zone of 12.5 miles, the United States told its citizens to stay at least 50 miles away from the plant.

A spokesman from TEPCO in a news conference Thursday said engineers were following an accident management plan and doing everything they could to try to stabilize the reactors.

"This is a very severe situation � even if we have multiple malfunctionings we need to keep cooling of the fuel so that it doesn't reach criticality," the spokesman said, pointing to the threat of a massive amount of highly radioactive material being released.

Following a series of blasts and fires at the plant earlier this week, the spent fuel pools of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors are no longer covered.

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said later Thursday that white smoke was billowing from the No. 2 unit, which suggests that a spent nuclear fuel pool there might also be boiling. And Kyodo news reported, as of Thursday night in Japan, that the pool water was feared to be rising in reactor No. 4.

China urged Japan on Thursday to give prompt and accurate information about the unfolding developments at the plant, BBC said.

"The information that is available is a little bit confused, to put it mildly, � I suppose largely because people can't actually get in there to tell you what's happening," Lloyd said.

Source: UPI