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Nuclear crisis mounts; Tsunami death toll may cross 10,000
TOKYO, MARCH 13 (IANS):
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Published on 14 Mar. 2011 12:42 AM IST
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The devastating earthquake followed by a tsunami that hit northeastern Japan is likely to claim over 10,000 lives, police said, as authorities scrambled Sunday to minimize the effects of possible radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
According to Xinhua, police said Sunday the toll is likely to cross more than 10,000.
The death toll will surely top that figure in the worst-hit prefecture of Miyagi alone, Naoto Takeuchi, chief of the prefectural police, said.
Police said earlier that more than 2,000 people had been killed or were unaccounted for in the affected regions, DPA reported, citing the Kyodo News agency.
A hydrogen explosion is possible at the No. 3 reactor of Japan’s Fukushima I nuclear power plant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Sunday.
However, he said the reactor could resist the possible blast, Xinhua reported. An explosion took place Saturday at the plant in which four people were injured.
Earlier, radiation levels surpassed legal limits at the Fukushima I plant in northeastern Japan, officials said, raising concerns over radiation leaks. Radiation at the Fukushima I plant was at 882 microsievert per hour and briefly topped 1,204 microsievert, top government spokesman Yukio Edano said.
According to DPA, nuclear reactors at the Fukushima I and II plants lost their cooling functions after power and backup generators were cut off due after the quake, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.
Engineers were in the process Sunday of releasing another dose of radioactive steam from a second reactor into the atmosphere, Edano said.
The technicians were working to prevent a meltdown of the reactor. According to Japanese news reports, the cooling water in the reactor has decreased so much that up to three metres of the fuel rods were exposed.
Fresh water has been injected into the cooling system of the number 3 reactor, Edano said. Radiation levels at that reactor were “very small and under control”, Edano said.
TEPCO notified Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency early Sunday that reactor number 3 had lost its cooling functions, making it the sixth reactor to do so since the quake hit.
Some 200,000 people have been evacuated from a 20-km safety zone around the two plants, located 240 km north of Tokyo.
At least 19 people have been exposed to radioactivity, Kyodo said
About 390,000 people have fled their homes, many of them finding a place to stay at the more than 1,400 emergency shelters set up in schools and community centres, broadcaster NHK said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naoto Kan doubled the number of soldiers sent to the affected region to 100,000 as rescue workers were struggling to reach quake-hit areas with many roads blocked by debris.
“I ask for utmost efforts to save the lives of as many people as possible,” Kyodo quoted Kan as saying after a meeting of the government’s emergency disaster headquarters. “We will put all-out efforts into rescuing people who have been isolated.”
On Sunday, an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale struck off the east coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, according to the China Earthquake Network Center. The epicenter, at a depth of 20 km, was monitored at 37.3 degrees north latitude and 142.6 degrees east longitude, Xinhua citied the center as saying in a statement.

 
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