Nuclear crisis worsens, radiation levels up

Fukushima/Tokyo: Japan`s nuclear nightmare worsened on Wednesday with radiation levels surging at a quake- crippled reactor at Fukushima plant, forcing authorities to briefly pull out emergency workers even as another fire erupted slowing desperate efforts to avert a meltdown.

With the crisis appearing to be going beyond control, Japan`s Emperor Akihito in a rare address to the nation said he was deeply worried over the developments in the aftermath of the last Friday`s massive earthquake of 9.0 magnitude and tsunami.

"I sincerely hope from the bottom of my heart that people will, hand in hand, overcome these difficult times by treating each other with compassion," said the 77-year-old emperor who for the first time appeared in a video message.

About 50 employees were believed to be working at the reactor No.3 at the plant, 220 km north of Tokyo, to avert a meltdown when the radiation levels surged suddenly.

The government`s nuclear safety agency said the radiation levels briefly reached 10 millisievert per hour at the plant`s entrance at 10:40 am local time, but added that it was possibly due to radioactive substances emitted from the No. 2 reactor.

Authorities were also considering spraying boric acid by helicopters to prevent spent nuclear fuel rods at another troubled reactor, No.4, from reaching criticality again, restarting a chain reaction, Kyodo news agency reported.

Around 730 workers were evacuated from the site yesterday following hydrogen explosions at the reactors, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant.

The remaining employees at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were withdrawn today following the sudden rise in radiation levels, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The work was suspended temporarily at the plant, where an estimated 70 per cent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No.1 reactor and 33 per cent at the No.2 reactor.

"Workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now. Because of the radiation risk, we are on standby," Edano said.

The cores of both reactors are believed to have partially melted with their cooling functions lost in the wake of Friday`s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami that have left over 11,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

At the No.2 reactor, the pressure-suppression chamber connected to its containment vessel was damaged following an explosion yesterday.

Adding to the concerns, a fire broke out again at the No.4 reactor, which was already posing the risk of leaks of high-level radioactive material, but flames were no longer visible about 30 minutes later, according to TEPCO.