At least 15 people have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning following an accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Kyodo news agency said on Sunday.
A blast ripped through the Fukushima Number One nuclear reactor on Saturday, destroying the building, but leaving the nuclear reactor itself undamaged, according to official Japanese reports. A steel container covering the reactor has protected it from the blast, the authorities said.
Following the explosion, however, the local authorities expanded the evacuation area around the plant from an earlier established 10-kilometer radius to a 20-kilometer radius and began handing out iodine, which helps protect the body from radioactive exposure, to residents of nearby areas.
The Fukushima prefecture authorities urged the people in the area to close windows, turn off air conditioners and stay at home.
The emergency cooling system has failed at another reactor at the Fukushima plant, raising fears of a possible blast due to overheating, the Kyodo news agency reported on Sunday, quoting Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. The Number Three reactor is in process of releasing radioactive steam, Edano said.
It was the sixth reactor at the Fukushima plant to undergo cooling failure since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday.
Edano acknowledged that radiation levels have risen at the plant as venting of slightly radioactive steam continues in a bid to lower pressure in the container vessel and allow the pumping of cooling water, the Nikkei website said.
"The rise in the radiation levels was within the expected range as we continue venting," Edano was quoted on the website as saying. He said fluctuations in the radiation level can be expected, and that there are no health concerns.
A Japanese nuclear safety panels said on Saturday radiation levels were 1,000 times higher than normal in a control room and eight times higher than normal just outside the plant.
MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti)