Relief efforts in Japan have been continuing, despite fears of increasing radiation levels from the country’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Rescue workers and soldiers are battling with freezing temperatures and snow as they try to bring aid to the worst-hit regions.
Japan’s NHK TV has reported that the confirmed death toll now stands at 3,771, with close to 8,000 people still missing. In the light of such shocking figures, and the fact that more than 500,000 people are still living in temporary shelters, the Japanese Emperor Akihito made a televised address to the nation.
In this rare appearance, he said: “I pray for the safety of as many people as possible…. I sincerely hope that we can keep the situation from getting worse.”
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has faced fresh problems. A statement on TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Company) website confirmed that “At approximately 5:45 am, a TEPCO employee discovered a fire at… the Nuclear Reactor Building”. This was at the no. 4 Reactor, which at the time of the earthquake was being used to store used fuel rods. This is the second time in two days that a fire has broken out at this particular reactor.
The fire is believed to have affected the outer housing of Reactor 4’s containment vessel, and was a cause for major concern this morning, as radiation levels at the plant spiked, prompting a temporary evacuation of the remaining workers at the site – these have since been allowed to return. At one point, levels were measured at 10 mSv per hour, which is half the recommended annual dose for nuclear industry employees.
An attempt was made by the Japanese military to pour water into the reactor from a helicopter, in an attempt to cool it. However, at around 0900 GMT, this was abandoned due to the radiation levels. Instead, a plan has been proposed to inject water into the reactor from the ground. Steam has also been seen billowing from No. 3 Reactor.
The government has ordered 140,000 people to stay indoors, with everyone living within a 12 mile (20 km) radius of the plant being told to leave the area immediately.
It remains to be seen how the situation at Fukushima will affect Japan, but with experts rating it as level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, one under Chernobyl’s rating of 7, the public are very concerned, with many foreign residents hoping to leave the country. France has already requested that any French people in Japan should leave, and the UK is advising against all non-essential travel to the country.