By Ria Novosti
Fears of a radioactive leak are rising in Japan, which is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the north of the country on Friday, killing at least 703 people.
Radiation levels at the quake-hit Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant in northeastern Japan rose to 1,000 times above the norm after its operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said an explosion was heard in the plant area after 3 pm local time (6 am GMT). White smoke could be seen ten minutes later. Four employers were injured and sent to hospital, the company said.
TV reports showed photos of Fukushima No.1 with its external wall intact before the reported blast and totally destroyed an hour and a half afterward.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano confirmed the blast reports at Fukushima No.1 but said it was not the reactor, which exploded.
The NHK television company said the Fukushima prefecture authorities urged people in the area to close windows, turn off air conditioners and stay at home.
Rescuers, doctors and fire engines have been summoned to the area to evacuate those living within a 20-kilometer distance from the nuclear plant’s two reactors, NHK said.
Northern Japan was swept by a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and a ten-meter tsunami wave on Friday. Authorities said the death toll could run into well over a thousand considering that 784 people are still missing. About a thousand people were injured, police said.
Rescuers have found another 400-500 bodies in the quake-affected Miyagi prefecture in northern Japan, NHK said.
At the moment, authorities have put the death toll at 599, but media reports have cited the figure of at least 703.
As the country shaken by the dreadful calamity is trying to raise its head, Japan’s meteorological agency has issued a new tsunami alert for four prefectures on the eastern coast, NHK said. The agency has warned that tsunami waves could reach three meters in height.
At least 30 more tremors measuring 5-6.8 on the Richter scale were registered near the eastern coast of Japan earlier on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was doing its best together with the Aeroflot airlines to evacuate Russians who want to leave Japan. All Russian tourists in Japan have contacted tour operators. But the Russian Embassy is still looking for a student, who was studying in the city of Sendai that was swept by the tsunami on Friday.
Russia, which lies to the northwest off Japan, has intensified radiation monitoring efforts among concerns of possible radioactive contamination caused by the blast at Japan’s nuclear plant, said Natalia Zhdanova, head of the regional welfare service said.
“Radiation levels are within the norm,” she said, adding that the radioactive cloud, if any, would only reach the Russian coast in 24 hours minimum.