Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan says the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant remains precarious, with new reports saying the reactor core of one of the units may have been damaged after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
In a nationally televised speech Friday, Mr. Kan said the country must remain vigilant as the prospect of an increased radiation leak grows by the day. The prime minister thanked the emergency workers he said are “risking their lives” in the effort to cool the nuclear plant.
Earlier Friday, an official with Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency told reporters about the possible damage to the reactor core, which is located in Fukushima’s number three unit. The unit was damaged by a hydrogen explosion three days after the twin disasters, and the new report raises the likelihood of greater radiation contamination to the area.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged residents still living within a 20 to 30 kilometer radius of Fukushima to voluntarily leave the area.
Workers have been scrambling to pump seawater into the damaged Fukushima units to cool the reactors, which is corroding the metal around the fuel rods because of an accumulation of tons of salt. Japan’s defense ministry says pure water and pumps supplied by the U.S. military will be brought to the plant to replace the seawater process.
Two emergency workers suffered burns on their legs Thursday after wading into water filled with high levels of radiation. They and a co-worker were attempting to restore power to cooling pumps at the number three reactor when they were injured.
The NISA has rated the Fukushima crisis at a level five on the international scale measuring the intensity of a nuclear event. It is considering raising it one more level, which is defined as a serious accident.
Meanwhile, China became the latest nation to ban imports of Japanese food and agricultural products from areas surrounding Fukushima, joining the United States, Australia, Canada, Russia and Singapore. China’s safety agency also announced Friday that two Japanese tourists were discovered with elevated levels of radiation after they arrived in China on Wednesday. The pair were taken to a hospital and given medical treatment before they were released.
Authorities say the pair presented no risk of contaminating others with radiation.
Japan’s national police agency said Friday the official death from the massive quake and tsunami has now topped 10,000 people, with more than 17,500 others listed as missing. About 300,000 are living in temporary shelters.