TOKYO (Reuters) - Rain or sleet are forecast for the area around Japan's crippled nuclear reactor, over which a light wind is expected to blow from the north and out into the ocean, the weather agency said on Tuesday.
The weather is important for gauging if traces of radiation leaking from the plant will reach heavily populated areas or enter the food chain.
Since Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, the wind has blown mostly out to the Pacific.
The damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), is about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Some 5-10 mm (0.2-0.4 inch) of rain or snow or sleet are forecast to fall over the area in the next 24 hours.
Three hundred engineers, in addition to military, police and fire department personnel, have been battling inside the danger zone to try to cool down the reactors.
Officially a total of 8,805 people were confirmed dead by Japan's National Police Agency as of early Tuesday, while 12,654 were reported missing.
But the toll is likely to rise, with police saying they fear more than 15,000 people had been killed in one prefecture alone.
Winds near the plant will blow at a speed of 6 mph, or 11 kph, the Meteorological Agency in Fukushima said, forecasting that the wind could begin blowing from the south east from around noon.
Traces of radiation exceeding national safety standards have so far been found in milk and vegetables from areas around the plant.
Tiny levels of radioactive iodine have also been found in tap water in Tokyo, one of the world's largest cities and the plant's operator said on Tuesday traces of radioactive substances had been found in the Pacific.
Many tourists and expatriates have already left Japan and many residents are staying indoors.
(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Miral Fahmy)