Japan's nuke crisis raises radiation fears

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2011 3:48 AM
Japan's nuke crisis raises radiation fears

They barely survived last week's calamitous earthquake and tsunami in Japan's northeast, and now they are confronted with a new worry _ fears of a fallout from a nuclear power plant that's leaking radiation.

The government told an estimated 140,000 people in a 19-mile (30-kilometer) radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant to seal themselves indoors to avoid exposure to radiation. The warning came three days after the containment building over the first reactor exploded, raising fears of a meltdown. Since then, three more reactors have experienced severe problems, including one that caught fire Tuesday, releasing high levels of radiation.

"Nuclear power is the most frightening, even more than a tsunami. The government, the ruling party, administrators, nobody tells us the citizens what is really happening," said Isao Araki, 63, at an evacuation center.

The complaint was echoed in other centers too, housing some of the 70,000 people evacuated from neighborhoods around the plant.

"I worry a lot about fallout. If we could see it we could escape, but we can't (see it). We don't have any information," said Yuto Tadano, a 20-year-old pump technician who worked at the plant.

He said he was on the second floor of an office building at the facility when the quake hit on Friday.

"It was terrible. The desks were thrown a round and the tables too. The walls started to crumble around us and there was dust everywhere. The roof began to collapse. We got outside and confirmed everyone was safe," he said.

Tadano, who lived about six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant, made his way to an evacuation center in an old school next to a makeshift morgue where some 300 people were gathered.

"We had no time to be tested for radioactive exposure. I still haven't been tested. I worry about leaks. It's invisible so you can't tell. I trust the facility will tell us if we are in danger. Our lives depend on them," said Tadano, cradling his 4-month-old baby, Shoma.

The lack of information has frustrated not only those who lived around the plant but also foreign governments and outsiders anxious to know if the radiation will have wider impact than Japan. A diplomat based in Tokyo called The Associated Press to ask if journalists had any more information because his embassy was unsure if an evacuation for the staff should be planned.

Soma lies 30 miles (50 kilometers ) from the crippled plant, whose cooling systems were knocked out by the quake and the tsunami.

The disaster has fueled fallout fears in Japan, which relies heavily on nuclear power but where the public is especially sensitive to radiation due to the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"We are really afraid, as if we didn't already have enough to worry about. You can't see fallout so we are totally relying on them for our lives," said Shinako Tachiya, 70. A lifelong resident of Soma, she was cleaning up her lightly damaged house on high ground overlooking the ravaged town.

The tsunami swept houses off their foundations and left a carpet of debris made of shattered buildings and wrecked cars and boats.

The town is 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the evacuation zone thrown up by the government around the Fukushima plant but residents worry they could be threatened by further nuclear problems.

"I used to believe the nuclear power officials, but not now. I think they are not being open with us. They aren't telling us anything," said Tachiya.

The tsunami left a fishing boat blocking the front gate of an inn owned by 63-year-old Toshiaki Kiuchi. Windows were shattered and burst pipes spewed water out front.

"The only information we get is what we see on TV or hear on the radio. They don't tell us anything about our safety, just technical jargon and warnings to stay out of the official evacuation zone.

"I don't think they are telling us the truth. Maybe even they don't know," he said.


Kelly Olsen in Koriyama contributed to this report.