Japan racing to prevent nuclear catastrophe


Sendai, Japan — Japan raced against the
clock Tuesday to avert a serious nuclear crisis as relief workers cranked up
their search for survivors of last week’s deadly earthquake and tsunami.

The Asian economic powerhouse
reeled as the death toll spiked to 3,373.

Shell-shocked people huddled in
cramped shelters, grieved over lost loved ones and worried about relatives who
are missing across villages and towns inundated by the tsunami waves spawned by
the 9.0-magnitude quake off the east coast of Honshu on Friday.

Fears of radioactive exposure
gripped the country as workers tackled quake-crippled cooling systems at the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan and coped with fires and
explosions there.

In the latest incidents, a fire
broke out at the No. 4 reactor building and was extinguished, and an explosion
occurred at the No. 2 reactor.

High temperatures inside the
building that houses the plant’s No. 4 reactor may have caused fuel rods
sitting in a pool to ignite or explode, the plant’s owner said.

Radiation level readings spiked at
the building gate during the fire but went down after the blaze was

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano
said amounts returned to a level that would not cause “harm to human

Radiation levels in Tokyo were
twice the usual level Tuesday, but they were too negligible to pose a health
threat, officials said.

But Japanese authorities couldn’t
rule out the spectre of greater radiation dangers down the road.

For the first time since the quake
crippled cooling systems at the Daiichi reactors on Friday and blasts occurred
at two reactors Saturday and Monday, Edano said radiation levels at the plant
had increased to “levels that can impact human health.”

Edano said Tuesday that he could
not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at the troubled reactors.

While sea water was being pumped
into the reactors in an effort to prevent further damage, “it cannot necessarily
be called a stable situation,” he said.

The plant’s owners have taken
precautions to protect the people in Fukushima Prefecture, where the reactors
sit. The plants are about 138 miles from Tokyo.

They evacuated all but about 50 workers
from the facility and urged people within 18.6 miles of the plant to remain indoors.
The government imposed a no-fly zone over the 30-kilometer radius “because
of detected radiation after explosions” there, the country’s transportation
ministry said.

Analysts also have their eyes on
reactors No. 5 and 6 at the plant, Edano said where cooling systems weren’t
functioning well, though the temperature had dropped slightly Tuesday.

At least 6,746 people were still
missing Tuesday, the National Police Agency said, and 1,987 were injured.

Public broadcaster NHK reported
that 450,000 people were living in shelters, and many schools had turned into
emergency shelters.

There have been hundreds of
aftershocks since the Friday quake.

A 6.0-magnitude quake was reported
85 miles east of Japan’s main Honshu island, but no tsunami warnings were
issued, the United States Geological Survey said Tuesday.

 That location was about 185 miles northeast of

Another 6.0-magnitude quake
occurred early Tuesday off the far northern coast of Honshu, about 600 miles
north of Tokyo.

Outside the area where aftershocks
have occurred, a 6.2-magnitude quake was reported Tuesday 72 miles
west-southwest of Tokyo, the USGS said.