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Updated: March 22, 2011 00:17 IST

Smoke scare at Fukushima

P. S. Suryanarayana
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A man checks a list of the dead outside a temporary morgue at a bowling alley in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Monday, as the death toll continues to rise following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast of Japan. Photo: AP.
A man checks a list of the dead outside a temporary morgue at a bowling alley in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Monday, as the death toll continues to rise following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast of Japan. Photo: AP.

The toll of Japan’s triple disaster came into clearer focus on Monday after police estimates showed more than 18,000 people died in the quake and tsunami, and the World Bank said rebuilding may cost $235 billion.

Billows of grey smoke rose from the worst-affected reactor in the quake-and-tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi civil nuclear plant in Japan on Monday. The latest scare forced the temporary evacuation of the workers who were deployed there.

An official of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, responsible for the crisis management at the stricken plant, later said in televised comments, “the amount of the smoke has decreased”.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also emphasised “there seems to be no problem now [and] we will continue to monitor the situation”.

Looking beyond the continuing civil nuclear emergency, which was declared within hours of the temblor and tsunami on March 11, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, in a twitter message, “we will continue to make utmost [efforts] to minimise [the] potential damage at [the] nuclear plant stations in Fukushima.” More importantly, Mr. Kan said his “government will intend to form a reconstruction plan to make Japan better, more resilient, and [a] more stable society”. No specifics were immediately outlined by the government.

Grey smoke was first noticed at the stricken reactor at the southeast corner of the top of the building, prompting concerns about the actual state of the highly radioactive spent fuel stored under that roof.

Heroic efforts

As the Japanese authorities were trying to control the situation and present the related issues in perspective, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Director General Yukiya Amano praised the “heroic” efforts of the emergency teams at the Fukushima site.

In a candid overall comment, Mr. Amano, who visited Japan last week to assess the situation, told the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna that “the crisis has still not been resolved and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious”.

“High levels of contamination have been measured in the locality of the plant. I fully understand the worries of millions of people, in Japan and neighbouring countries in Asia but also further afield, about the possible dangers to human health, environmental contamination and risks to foodstuffs. … I have confidence that the Japanese government will address [these] public concerns properly. The Agency is working at full stretch, together with other countries and international organisations, to help Japan bring the crisis to an end and ensure the effects are mitigated as much as possible.”

On the food-radiation scare, Mr. Edano on Monday confirmed that Japan had now ordered four prefectures to “suspend the shipments of spinach and milk from specified areas”. Promising compensation to the producers, he held out an assurance that the “radiation levels in the air in [the] areas, where the shipments of produce were suspended, don't cause risk to human health at all.”

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