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March 14, 2011

Japan Nuclear Crisis Deepens

The crisis at Japan's damaged nuclear power complex in the northeastern part of the country is worsening.  Top government officials acknowledge further, significantly higher radiation leaks and explosions at a total of three reactors.

Tuesday morning, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan delivered a nationally broadcast message to citizens, after a third reactor building explosion was confirmed in Fukushima.

Urging the public to heed his words calmly, Kan acknowledged one of the damaged reactors is facing a much higher risk of releasing radiation into the atmosphere.

The prime minister asked those living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant to stay indoors. Those living closer, about 200,000 people in all, had previously evacuated.

After Kan finished his statement,  Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano met with reporters.

The top government spokesman said radiation detected at another damaged reactor, the Number Three unit, was at a level that could harm people.

The highest brief spike of radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima plant was equivalent to eight times the dose an average person would absorb in a year.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company announced that the cooling system had failed at the Number Two reactor of the Fukushima complex. The cooling equipment had been damaged by last Friday's magnitude nine earthquake and tsunami.

The utility says all workers from the Fukushima plant, except those involved in the emergency pumping of water to cool the reactors, have been ordered out of the facility.

The Kyodo news agency quotes an official at the company saying it is possible that some parts of the rods holding nuclear material have melted.  If confirmed, that would be a new and more alarming worry for Japan.

Tokyo Electric says there are also big problems at the Number Four reactor, which had previously had its fuel rods removed but still contains spent fuel.  A fire has been extinguished there from an apparent explosion of a fuel container, which damaged the reactor's ceiling.  Radioactive steam has been released from that reactor.

Monday, Japan asked for assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Japanese domestic news reports says small levels of radioactive iodine and cesium have been detected in the Tokyo metropolitan area, about 250 kilometers to the southwest from here in Fukushima prefecture.

Although authorities say that is no cause for alarm, there is concern these reports could trigger panic, putting additional stress on Japan's communications and transportation infrastructure, which have already deteriorated because of the huge quake and tsunami.