The U.S. urged its citizens near the earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan to evacuate as it warned of ’’extremely high’’ levels of radiation, while other countries advised their nationals to consider leaving the Tokyo area or Japan altogether.
’’We are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical,’’ U.S. Ambassador John Roos said in a statement today on the website of the American embassy in Tokyo.
The U.K. advised British nationals to consider leaving the area near the Fukushima plant as well as Tokyo, which is 135 miles to the south. Germany and France advised citizens to consider leaving Japan, while Belgium and Norway recommended leaving the nation. Governments and airlines in France, Russia, Belgium, Sri Lanka and China made airplanes available for citizens wishing to evacuate.
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant damaged by last week’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan was releasing levels of radiation that could be life-threatening, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told lawmakers in Washington, as Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers struggled to prevent a nuclear meltdown at the complex. The United Nations nuclear agency planned an emergency meeting on the crisis.
“Due to the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications, power and other infrastructure, British nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area,” the U.K. Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Even so, a British government science official said the risk to human health from damage at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant was limited to the area around the facility.
The Japanese government has recommended a 20-kilometer (12- mile) evacuation zone around the stricken nuclear reactors, located 220 kilometers north of Tokyo. People within 30 kilometers were advised to stay indoors.
“The 20 kilometer exclusion zone that the Japanese have actually imposed is sensible and proportionate,” U.K. Chief Scientific Officer John Beddington said, according to a transcript of a conference call yesterday.
The NRC’s “independent analysis of the deteriorating situation” in Japan spurred the U.S. to issue a recommendation that goes further than the Japanese government’s guidelines, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday in Washington. “We’re obviously very concerned about the safety and security of American citizens in Japan.”
The German Embassy in Tokyo said March 15 it recommended its citizens consider leaving Japan. Families with small children should especially consider leaving, the embassy said on its website. Andreas Peschke, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, yesterday urged citizens to ’’temporarily move’’ from the Tokyo area to the city of Osaka, 400 kilometers southwest of the capital. The German embassy has been partially moved to Osaka, he said at a briefing in Berlin.
The French prime minister advised citizens who aren’t required to stay in Tokyo to return to France or leave to the south of Japan, according to a statement dated March 16 on the website of the nation’s embassy in Japan. The government also asked Air France to make planes available to help with evacuations, the statement said.
Belgium’s foreign ministry advised citizens yesterday to leave Japan because of the “worrisome” situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant, joining Norway in recommending evacuation from the earthquake-stricken nation. The Belgian defense ministry sent an Airbus A330 aircraft to Seoul in South Korea, which is scheduled to start flights between Tokyo and Seoul as of March 18, according to an e-mailed statement.
Russia’s government will start evacuating the families of embassy employees and other state officials from Japan, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday. Evacuations will probably start tomorrow, according to the statement.
China has since March 15 been moving its citizens to Niigata and Tokyo from the four Japanese prefectures most affected by the earthquake pending repatriation, Xinhua News Agency said.
More than 4,000 Chinese arrived in Dalian in the northeast from Japan between March 11 and March 16, including 1,900 people on 12 flights yesterday evening, Xinhua reported yesterday.
Sri Lanka, Australia
China Eastern Airlines Corp. has added flights to Japan to evacuate Chinese wanting to leave, a company spokesman said, declining to be identified, citing company policy. The airline also added one extra flight to Tokyo, he said.
SriLankan Airlines Ltd. will operate a special flight from Tokyo to Colombo today for Sri Lankans wishing to leave Japan, it said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Mexico’s embassy in Tokyo said March 15 it would help Mexicans pay for bus fares to Osaka and hotels in the city, as well as airfares to Mexico.
Australia today said citizens should keep at least 80 kilometers from the Fukushima plants. Yesterday, the country said people should reconsider travel to Tokyo and surrounding earthquake-affected districts, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
The U.K.’s Beddington said a worst-case scenario would result in an explosion at the Fukushima plant that could send radioactive material about 1,600 feet in the air.
Workers at the Fukushima facility, damaged after the March 11 earthquake, were struggling to keep the plant’s reactors cool and to control pressure inside containment vessels. If they fail to do so, pressure would build up inside the reactors and cause the core to melt, Beddington said. As it melts, the material will fall and react with the concrete and other materials on the floor, he said on a call with the British Embassy in Tokyo.
“In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion,” he said. “Now, that’s really serious, but it’s serious again for the local area. It’s not serious for elsewhere.”
Assuming that weather patterns drive radioactive material toward Tokyo, there would be “absolutely no issue” for human health, he said. Even following the disaster at Chernobyl, there were no radiation-related problems outside the 30 kilometer exclusion zone, the scientist said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Terje Langeland in Osaka at email@example.com