As if things weren’t dire enough with thousands dead or incommunicado in northern Japan following Friday’s mega-quake, the radiation leaking from a nuclear power station is causing significant concern as far away as Tokyo.
Officials are spraying non-radioactive potassium iodide and issuing tablets of the compound to people around the plants’ (10- and 20-kilometre) exclusion zones to mitigate the effects of radiation. People in other regions are also rushing out to buy pills as rumours go viral on Twitter and other social media sites.
The government has rated the explosion that blew the roof off the reactor building at the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) nuclear plant as level four on the international scale of 0-7 (Chernobyl was a seven).
Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) officials said the level of radiation at the plant briefly reached 1,204 reached micro siervets (over the permissible level of 500).
But top government spokesman Yukio Edano said there was no immediate health threat.
TEPCO also said that three reactors at the Fukushima Daini (No.2) plant have lost the ability to cool, but pressure is stable inside the reactors.
Hydrogen burn-off was blamed for the explosion at the No. 1 reactor, and Edano announced at around 4 pm local time today that hydrogen was also building up outside the No. 3 reactor, adding that an explosion is likely. He stressed, however, that there was no need to panic.
All this underscores the need for people to be aware that there will be numerous unfounded rumours, and the public should double-check with other sources whenever possible. This applies especially to people who are getting their news from outside of Japan.
Nuclear power accounts for about 30 percent of Japan’s overall electricity generation. Tonight I’ll be attending a press conference by members of the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Centre (CNIC), an anti-nuclear organization, to get their take on the situation at the Fukushima plant.
Meanwhile, Tokyo Notes contributor David McNeill and The Diplomat’s Associate Editor Ulara Nakagawa (tweeting on @ularainblack) are in and around the disaster area and we’ll bring you more news as soon as it comes in.