Fresh tsunami alert issued as 6.5 earthquake hits

Fukushima tsunami and the resulting whirlpoolsFUKUSHIMA – A magnitude-6.5 earthquake rocked the east of Japan at 7.23am local time (6.23am Singapore time), the latest in a series of aftershocks, prompting Japan to issue a tsunami alert that was later lifted.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake was 5.9km deep, and struck off the coast of Honshu.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, but the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that a relatiely small tsunami of up to 0.5m may wash into the already-devastated Miyagi region.

This was just the latest setback for a country battling to come to terms with a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing across Japan’s devastated north-east.

Japan today appeared resigned to a long fight to contain the world’s most dangerous atomic crisis in 25 years after high radiation levels complicated work at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by the tsunami.

Radiation at the plant has soared in recent days. Latest readings yesterday showed contamination 100,000 times normal levels in the water at reactor No 2, and 1,850 times normal levels in the nearby sea – the most alarming levels since the crisis began.

“I think maybe the situation is much more serious than we were led to believe,” said one expert, Prof Najmedin Meshkati, of the University of Southern California, adding it may take weeks to stabilise the situation and the United Nations should step in.

“This is far beyond what one nation can handle – it needs to be bumped up to the UN Security Council. In my opinion, this is more important than the Libya no-fly zone.”

Experts said radiation in the Pacific waters will quickly dissipate. In the latest find, traces of radioactive iodine turned up in rainwater samples in Massachusetts in the United States, but health officials there said they posed no threat.

Radiation in drinking water was found in one out of three Tokyo water purification plants based on samples taken yesterday, the metropolitan government said. Two out of three facilities had detected radioactive levels the previous day.

Japanese officials and international nuclear experts have generally said the levels away from the plant are not dangerous for humans, who face comparable radiation doses on a daily basis from natural substances, X-rays or plane flights.

Efforts to repair the cooling systems at the No 2 and No 3 reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant are being delayed by the need to drain radioactive water from the floors, Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said this morning in a briefing broadcast over the Internet.

Company officials indicated that the contaminated water is probably coming from inside the reactors, rather than from pools of spent fuel rods outside.

Efforts to gain control over the damaged plant have been hampered by radiation leaks, forcing repair work to be suspended and engineers to rotate shifts.

Professor Tetsuo Iguchi of the department of quantum engineering at Nagoya University said that at the sharply-elevated levels of radiation, workers would be able to remain on site for only about 15 minutes.

Two men who were exposed to radiation had “significant” skin contamination on their legs, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

TEPCO has conceded it faces a protracted and uncertain operation to contain overheating fuel rods and avert a meltdown.

“Regrettably, we don’t have a concrete schedule at the moment to enable us to say in how many months or years the crisis will be over,” TEPCO vice-president Sakae Muto said in the latest of round-the-clock briefings the company holds.

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