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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Japanese PM Says Nuclear Plant Stabilizing

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, April 12, 2011By Babu Ram-Japan's prime minister says the situation is stabilizing at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant even though his government has elevated the level of the crisis on an international scale.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan offered the assurances Tuesday in a nationally televised news conference, hours after his government designated the accident as a level seven - the highest level on the nuclear incident scale formulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency. That puts it on the same level a
s the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl.

A series of strong aftershocks is hampering efforts to repair systems at the Fukushima plant, including a 6.0-magnitude quake Tuesday that forced workers to evacuate the site for the second time in two days. The plant's operators said there were no immediate signs of new damage from the aftershock, which followed a 6.2-magnitude quake on Monday.

Officials raised the crisis from a five to a seven on the international scale, indicating a major accident with widespread health and environmental effects. But they stressed that radiation released since an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant's cooling systems on March 11 is only 10 percent of what was released at Chernobyl.

Kan said at his press conference that the levels of radiation leaking from the plant are now decreasing and that the situation is moving "one step at a time" toward stability.

He also said it is time for the country to turn to the task of reconstruction, saying it must regain the determination it showed in rebuilding after World War II. He said Japan should not just restore things as they were before but build a better future than before.

Kan urged citizens to abandon the self-restraint they have shown out of respect for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which has left about 28,000 people dead or missing. He said they should help the survivors by buying good including food products from the areas most affected by the disasters.

Officials with Japan's nuclear safety agency said the decision to raise the accident level was based on a detailed assessment of how much radiation has escaped from the plant over the past month, especially in the first days after the tsunami knocked out its cooling systems.

A similar assessment led to a decision Monday to evacuate residents from five communities outside the existing exclusion zone and urge residents between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant to be prepared to move quickly.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano stressed that, unlike the Chernobyl accident in what is now Ukraine, there has so far been no "direct health hazard" from the Fukushima accident. The Chernobyl disaster is believed to have killed about two dozen people within days and thousands more over the ensuing years.

Safety agency officials also noted that, in Chernobyl, radiation spread over a wide area when a reactor exploded. So far at Fukushima, most of the radiation has been contained within large concrete chambers, though they may be leaking.

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