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Rediff.com  » News » Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

Last updated on: March 21, 2011 16:12 IST

Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

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Workers attempting to salvage Japan's tsunami hit Fukushima nuclear reactor had to be evacuated after smoke was seen billowing in a latest in a series of troubles to hit the moves to stabilise the radiation leaking plant.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said slow but "steady progress" is being made in tackling the brewing crisis at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"Grayish smoke was seen coming out from a building that houses the No.3 reactor of the troubled atomic unit and Tokyo Electric Power Co, which runs the unit said that workers had been "temporarily" asked to evacuate.

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Image: A fire truck sprays water at No 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tomioka, Fukushima prefecture in this still image taken from a video by the Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defence Unit
Photographs: Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit via Reuters TV
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Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

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Kan also told a Cabinet-level emergency disaster headquarters meeting held at his office that he will gear up for reconstruction of the eastern Japan areas pummeled by the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the Kyodo reported.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern and eastern Japan and the number of those reported missing touched to near 22,000 as of Monday, the National Police Agency said, Kyodo reported.

After the smoke was spotted at the southeast of the building around 3:55 pm, TEPCO said it had temporarily evacuated its workers from the site as it assessed the situation. The amount of smoke later decreased, TEPCO added.


Image: An aerial view taken from a helicopter from Japan's Self-Defence Force shows damage sustained at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex
Photographs: Tokyo Electric Power/Handout/Reuters
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Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

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Japan will monitor radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean near the Fukushima plant, where firefighters have been using seawater to cool reactor units, officials said.

Following a magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, cooling functions of the No. 3 reactor were lost and its core is believed to have partially melted.

At present, coolant water is pumped into the reactor and a pool for spent nuclear fuel. The roof and upper walls of the building that houses the No. 3 reactor were blown off by a hydrogen explosion last week.

On Sunday, pressure in the No 3 reactor's containment vessel temporarily rose, but it later stabilised.


Image: Plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel rods are placed in a storage pool at the No 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in this picture taken August 21

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Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

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The number of deaths reported in a total of 12 prefectures came to 8,649, while people reported by their relatives to be missing climbed to 13,262 in six prefectures. Police have identified about 4,080 bodies, including 2,990 returned to their families, the agency said.

A total of about 340,000 evacuees, including those who fled from the vicinity of the troubled nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, are now staying at some 2,070 shelters set up by 16 prefectures.

"Until now, we have asked (relief workers) to prioritise rescuing afflicted people. We now want them to give priority to assisting people who are living in the shelters," Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai told media persons after calling at a Ground Self-Defence Force camp in Sendai, the local capital, to encourage troops on a disaster mission.


Image: A girl looks at her mother as they are scanned for radiation at Azuma gymnastic hall in Fukushima
Photographs: Kyodo/Reuters
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Japan toll nears 22,000; new trouble in Fukushima

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In the hard-hit city of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi, the governor handed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, requesting aid for reconstruction, to a visiting ruling party lawmaker there, as Kan canceled his scheduled visit to the city Monday due to bad weather.

Murai later toured shelters to comfort quake victims. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said it had enlisted some 5,900 caregivers to send to the quake-hit areas to help address a shortage of staff to look after the elderly.

Up to some 28,000 seniors can be accommodated in nursing homes in distant locations, the ministry added.


Image: A view of empty streets in a neighbourhood in Tamura
Photographs: Joe Chan/Reuters
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Great difficulty persists in delivering relief goods to quake victims, 11 days after the magnitude 9.0 quake, the biggest recorded in the country.

In Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, which has accommodated some 14,000 evacuees, people who took refuge at an elementary school building have been unable to eat frozen food due to a lack of electricity needed to microwave it.

They are also still waiting for a large supply of underwear, local officials said.


Image: People who evacuated from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, rest in a space cordoned off with cardboard in a hallway at the evacuees' new shelter in Saitama
Photographs: Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters
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