Five days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami set in motion what one nuclear analyst has described as a slow-moving nuclear nightmare, and it’s still unclear if a meltdown can be avoided at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Surging radiation levels Wednesday prevented a helicopter from dropping water into the No. 3 reactor to try to cool fuel rods, and police are now planning to use water cannons in an effort to cool spent nuclear fuel at one of the reactors.
‘Japan's government said radiation levels outside the plant's gates were stable,’ Reuters reported. ‘But, in a sign of being overwhelmed, appealed to private companies to help deliver supplies to tens of thousands of people evacuated from around the complex.’
In a reflection of the magnitude of the crisis, Emperor Akihito delivered a rare video message in which he said he was deeply worried by this ‘unprecedented’ nuclear crisis.
‘I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times,’ he said.
And in a further sign of concern over the ongoing uncertainty, thousands of Tokyo residents have fled the city, while many companies are working with skeleton staff. Sony, for example, which usually has about 6,000 people based in its headquarters office, now has about 120 working there.
A number of countries have advised their citizens to head south, while the French government, which was the first to advise its citizens to leave Tokyo, has reportedly chartered two planes to help transport citizens back to France.
The US Embassy, for its part, has stopped short of recommending its citizens leave the country, although Ambassador John Roos told a press conference today that the US government would continue to monitor the situation while lending considerable support to Japanese relief and nuclear control efforts.
Asked if he agreed with the Japanese assessments of the situation, Roos said: ‘I think that our experts both here on the ground…have continued to review on a continual basis and have, after careful analysis of the radiation levels and damage assessments of the units at Fukushima, our experts continue to be in agreement.’
Still, whatever reassurance Roos might have been able to offer citizens in Tokyo, back in the United States there have been growing concerns over the potential nuclear fallout. According to The Guardian, companies selling anti-radiation potassium iodide tablets have been swamped with orders, despite officials saying it’s unnecessary.
It reported Wednesday: ‘Medical authorities in California have warned against taking the drug, which can cause side effects. But that has not prevented nukepills.com from receiving "a new order every 30 seconds". "We are quite slammed with orders, but we are working as fast as we can to get orders out. Our phones are swamped, so please do not try to call," the US website advises.’