WORKERS were evacuated today after smoke was seen billowing from the No. 3 reactor at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, its operator said.
No other information is yet available.
Earlier today, food contaminated with radiation was found for the first time outside Japan – where milk and spinach have already been tainted by a plume from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant – as Taiwan detected radioactivity in a batch of imported Japanese fava beans.
The discovery of traces of radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water, well to the south-west of the crippled atomic power plant on the Pacific coast, compounded public anxiety, but authorities said there was no danger to health.
Cooling systems meant to protect the Fukushima plant’s six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown were knocked out by the massive tsunami, and engineers have since been battling to control rising temperatures.
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Radiation-suited crews have been striving to restore electricity to the ageing facility 250km north-east of Tokyo, after extending a high-voltage cable into the site from the national grid.
“Our desperate efforts to prevent the situation worsening are making certain progress,” said chief government spokesman Yukio Edano.
“But we must not underestimate this situation, and we are not being optimistic that things will suddenly improve,” he said.
Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said the temperature in all spent fuel-rod pools at the facility had dropped below 100 degrees Celsius – suggesting water-cooling operations were having some effect.
Authorities said reactors five and six at the Fukushima complex meanwhile were in “stable condition”, Kyodo News reported.
Six workers at the plant have been exposed to high levels of radiation but are continuing to work and have suffered no health problems, TEPCO said.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan was to visit a staging ground for the Fukushima relief efforts today, as well as the city of Ishinomaki, where the two survivors were found.
Two found alive
“An 80-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy were found under debris,” said a police spokesman in the devastated city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture.
“Their temperatures were quite low but they were conscious. Details of their condition are not immediately known. They have been already rescued and sent to hospital.”
Sumi Abe and her grandson Jin Abe were in the kitchen when the quake struck on March 11, public broadcaster NHK reported. The house collapsed with them inside but the grandson was able to reach food from the refrigerator, helping them to survive.
There have been few such miracle rescues, with almost 21,000 people confirmed as dead or listed as missing following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and giant tsunami which flattened Japan’s northeast coast on March 11.
Freezing temperatures and snow have hampered rescue operations.
With half a million tsunami survivors huddled in threadbare, chilly shelters and the threat of disaster at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant stretching frayed nerves, the mood in the world’s third-biggest economy remains grim.
Aftershocks fuel terror
According to the charity Save the Children, about 100,000 children were displaced by the quake and tsunami, and signs of trauma are evident among young survivors as the nuclear crisis and countless aftershocks fuel their terror.
“We found children in desperate conditions, huddling around kerosene lamps and wrapped in blankets,” Save the Children spokesman Ian Woolverton said after visiting a number of evacuation centres.
“They told me about their anxieties, especially their fears about radiation,” Mr Woolverton said, adding that several youngsters had mentioned the US atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which they know from school.
The government has insisted that there is no widespread threat of radiation. But the discovery of the tainted fava beans by Taiwanese customs officers will do nothing to calm public anxiety that has already spread far beyond Japan.
Several governments in Asia have begun systematic radiation checks on made-in-Japan goods, as well as of passengers arriving on flights from the country.
But Tsai Shu-chen of Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration stressed the radioactive iodine and caesium-137 found on the fava beans were well below legal safety levels.
In the disaster epicentre, authorities have been battling to get more fuel and food to survivors enduring freezing temperatures.
At shelters, some grandparents are telling children stories of how they overcame hardships in their childhood during and after World War II, which left Japan in ruins.
“We have to live at whatever cost,” said Shigenori Kikuta, 72.
“We have to tell our young people to remember this and pass on our story to future generations, for when they become parents themselves.”
There was better news for residents in Rikuzentakata, where construction teams began erecting 36 prefabricated units, the first of many more temporary houses being built for the tsunami homeless.
“They won’t be very big, but whatever they are, it will be better than being in here,” said great-grandmother Tokiko Kanno, who has been sleeping on a school stage.
Wikileaks protests in Spain over Julian Assange arrest
Protests have taken place across Spain calling for the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing extradition from the UK to Sweden for alleged sexual offences.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the British embassy in Madrid calling for him to be freed.
Wikileaks is publishing insights from hundreds of thousands of sensitive US diplomatic and military documents.
The demonstrators believe Mr Assange’s detention is politically motivated.
The whistle-blowing website has angered and embarrassed governments around the world through its publication in recent weeks of classified US diplomatic cables.
Mr Assange was detained in the UK after Sweden secured an international warrant for his arrest.
Prosecutors in Sweden say they want to question him in connection with the sexual offence allegations.
There have also been calls from some in the US for his arrest and prosecution on charges related directly to Wikileaks’ activity.
Sensitive issueWhile supporters online have mounted cyber-protests against Mr Assange’s detention, Saturday’s protests were some of the first street demonstrations in support of Wikileaks.
Wearing face masks associated with the “Anonymous” group of hackers – which launched cyber attacks after Mr Assange’s arrest in the UK – the crowd in Madrid shouted for his freedom, outside the vast glass tower that houses the British embassy
Many of the demonstrators were angry at some of the revelations in the cables, says the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Madrid.
These include the suggestion Spain came under pressure to stop a criminal investigation into the killing of Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman who died when American soldiers fired a tank round into his hotel in Baghdad.
The Free Wikileaks website, which organised the demonstrations, said protests were also planned for other Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.
It called for the restoration of Wikileaks’ internet domain, which was cut off by Amazon after it began publishing the diplomatic cables two weeks ago.
And it demanded that Visa and MasterCard restore credit card services because, it said, no one had proven Mr Assange’s guilt.
Our correspondent says the issue of freedom of speech is sensitive for Spaniards, who only emerged from four decades of authoritarian rule in the 1970s.
Tony Nguyen is today in jail