17th March, 2011
The United States and Britain have ordered their citizens to leave Japan as higher radiation levels are reported from the countryâ€™s fractured nuclear reactors, following the earthquake and Tsunami on 11 March.
Yesterday, America urged its citizens to defer all non-essential travel to any part of Japan as unpredictable weather and wind conditions risked spreading radioactive contamination.
The travel warning extends to U.S. citizens already in the country and urges them to consider leaving. The authorized departure offers voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya and affects some 600 people.
Senior State Department official Patrick Kennedy said chartered planes will be brought in to help private American citizens wishing to leave. People face less risk in southern Japan, but changing weather and wind conditions could raise radiation levels elsewhere in the coming days, he said.
The decision to begin evacuations mirrors moves by countries such as Australia and Germany, who also advised their citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and other earthquake-affected areas. Tokyo, which is about 170 miles from the stricken nuclear complex, has reported slightly elevated radiation levels, though Japanese officials have said the increase was too small to threaten the 39 million people in and around the capital.
The Pentagon said troops are receiving anti-radiation pills before missions to areas where radiation exposure is likely.
With the arrival of three more ships to the massive humanitarian mission, there were 17,000 sailors and Marines afloat on 14 vessels in waters off Japan. Several thousand Army and Air Force service members already stationed at U.S. bases in Japan have also been mobilized for the relief efforts.
Airmen have been flying search and rescue missions and operating Global Hawk drones and U-2 reconnaissance planes to help the Japanese assess damage from the disasters. The operation is fraught with challenges â€” mainly, figuring out how to continue to provide help amid some low-level releases of radiation from the facility, which officials fear could be facing a meltdown.
Meanwhile Japanâ€™s military helicopters dumped loads of seawater onto the stricken nuclear complex today, turning to combat-style tactics while trying to cool overheated uranium fuel that may be on the verge of spewing out more radiation.
Plant operators also said they were racing to finish a new power line that could restore cooling systems and ease the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on the countryâ€™s northeast coast.
The top U.S. nuclear regulatory official gave a far bleaker assessment of the situation than the Japanese, and the U.S. ambassador said the situation was â€œdeterioratingâ€ while warning U.S. citizens within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the complex to leave the area or at least remain indoors.
The Japanese government said it had no plans to expand its mandatory, 12-mile (20-kilometer) exclusion zone around the plant on the northeast coast, while also urging people within 20 miles (30 kilometers) to stay inside.
The crisis at the nuclear complex was set off when last weekâ€™s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and destroyed backup generators needed for the reactorsâ€™ cooling systems, adding a major nuclear crisis for Japan as it struggled with twin natural disasters that killed more than 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.