Japan earthquake: Anger over Fukushima evacuation plan

"They are leaving us to die," says the mayor of Minamasoma inside the exclusion zone

The governor of the region at the centre of Japan's nuclear crisis has criticised official handling of the evacuation of the area around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Fukushima prefecture governor Yuhei Sato said: "Anxiety and anger felt by people have reached boiling point."

Engineers are racing to avert a nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi, badly damaged by Friday's quake and tsunami.

The government has declared a 20km (12-mile) evacuation zone around it.

Another 140,000 people living between 20-30km of the facility were told on Tuesday not to leave their homes, while the US embassy has advised American citizens living within 80km of the plant to evacuate or seek shelter.

Mr Sato said centres already housing people who had been moved from their homes near the plant did not have enough hot meals and basic necessities such as fuel and medical supplies. "We're lacking everything," he said.

Japanese media have became more critical of Prime Minister Naoto Kan's handling of the disaster, and have accused both the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co of failing to provide enough information on the incident.

Analysis

Over the days of the Fukushima crisis, attention has switched from reactor building 1 to 3, to 2, back to 3 - and now, to 4.

Here, it is not the actual reactor that is causing concern. Instead, it is a pool storing fuel rods that had been taken out of the reactor when it was shut down for maintenance before the earthquake struck.

There have been reports that water levels were low; and now the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has a team of experts advising in Japan, says the pool is completely dry.

This means the fuel rods are exposed to the air. Without water, they will get much hotter, allowing radioactive material to escape - and the NRC says radiation levels are probably extremely high, creating a danger to workers at the plant.

The company operating the plant has even warned of 're-criticality' - that a nuclear chain reaction could start among fuel rods in the now dry pool.

That would not cause a nuclear explosion but it would increase the release of radioactive substances.

Thousands of people were killed in the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami. In a rare public appearance, Japan's Emperor Akihito has said he is "deeply worried" about the crisis his country is facing.

The atomic crisis has been caused by the tsunami wrecking back-up diesel generators which kept the nuclear fuel cool at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 220km from Tokyo.

Workers have been dousing the reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilise their temperatures, since the first in a series of explosions rocked the plant on Saturday.

Helicopters deployed to dump water on the facility on Wednesday were pulled out amid concerns over radiation levels in the air above the site. Reports suggest another plan is now under consideration to use water cannon.

Earlier, the plant's operators evacuated its skeleton crew of 50 workers for about an hour as ground-level radiation spiked.

And yet another fire broke out in a reactor, while steam billowed from another one.

Fukushima Daiichi: What went wrong

  • Reactor 1: Was first to be rocked an explosion on Saturday; fuel rods reportedly 70% damaged
  • Reactor 2: There are fears a blast on Tuesday breached a containment system; fuel rods reportedly 33% damaged
  • Reactor 3: Explosion on Monday; smoke or steam seen rising on Wednesday; damage to roof and possibly also to a containment system
  • Reactor 4: Hit by a major blaze on Tuesday and another fire on Wednesday

The power facility has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo, spreading alarm in the city and internationally.

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said developments at the plant were "very serious", as he prepared to head to the country to assess the situation.

In other developments:

  • After losing $620bn (£385bn) in the first two days of this week, Japan's stock market rebounded to finish Wednesday up by 5.7%
  • Britain advised its nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of the capital to consider leaving the area
  • France urged its nationals in Tokyo to leave the country or move south; two Air France planes were sent to begin evacuation
  • Australia advised its citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and the most damaged prefectures
  • Turkey warned against travel to Japan
'Unprecedented'

Emperor Akihito went on live TV on Wednesday to make his first public comments on the disaster, and urged an all-out rescue effort.

Watch: Japan's Emperor Akihito addresses the Japanese people

TV stations interrupted programming to show the emperor describing the crisis facing the nation as "unprecedented in scale".

The 77-year-old - deeply respected by many Japanese - said: "I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times."

Japan's titular head of state - who acceded to the throne in 1989 after the death of his father Hirohito - said he prayed that every victim would be saved.

He spoke as snow blanketed swathes of the disaster zone, where many survivors have little food, water or heat.

About 450,000 people have been staying in temporary shelters, many sleeping on the floor of school gymnasiums.

More than 4,300 people are listed as dead but it is feared the total death toll from the catastrophe, which pulverised the country's north-east coast, will rise substantially.

Map of exclusion zone around Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant - 15 March 2011

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