Tue, March 15, 2011
World > Asia-Pacific > Powerful quake rocks Japan

Japanese PM slams nuke plant operator's handling of growing crisis, SDF switch to relief from rescue

2011-03-15 12:55:59 GMT2011-03-15 20:55:59(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks at a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, March 15, 2011. (Xinhua/Kyodo)

TOKYO, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) for its botched handling of the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at which two explosions Tuesday led to the leak of radioactive substances into the atmosphere.

According to the Kyodo news agency, one of its reporters overheard Kan saying to the company's executives at TEPCO's head office, "what the hell is going on?"

The prime minister's angry remarks came as local TV was reporting an explosion to the public at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which led to radiation leaking into the atmosphere and being detected in the country's capital.

Sources close to the matter said of that incident, the prime minister was livid that he was receiving his news at the same time and in the same manner as the rest of the nation.

The prime minister also urged TEPCO not to withdraw its workers from the faltering power plant, saying that in the event of a withdrawal he was "100 percent sure the company would collapse."

However, following the second explosion on Tuesday, the plant operator pulled out 750 workers, leaving just 50 to deal with cooling the overheating reactors.

Fukushima Govorner Yuhei Sato phoned Kan and told him that "the fears and anger of residents in the prefecture are reaching the limit," according to a statement by a local government official to the press on Tuesday.

Sato insisted the central government do more to bring the nuclear crisis to an end and insisted that TEPCO should "provide accurate information much earlier to the central government."

Japanese citizens as well as the government have been wholly unsatisfied with TEPCO's shoddy and tardy release of vital information on the failing plant's status.

In an effort to improve communication, the government and TEPCO on Tuesday launched a joint crisis headquarters to deal with the situation at the Fukushima power plant.

Authorities in Tokyo meanwhile reported that radiation levels spiked in the nation's capital and its vicinity, following the two explosions at the plant, causing a panicked public to empty the shelves of supermarkets, home supply and convenience stores.

Enforced power outages this evening are expected to throw the greater Tokyo area into wider disarray this evening.

The transport ministry has also imposed a no-fly zone within 30 kilometers of the stricken plant in Fukushima as the catastrophe escalates by the hour.

Also on Tuesday, Kan ordered the Self-Defense Forces to shift their focus from relief rather than rescue operations, as thousands of people in temporary evacuation centers are running low on essential supplies.

Some in the most remote areas of quake-ravaged northeastern Japan, have been without food or water since the magnitude 9.0 quake struck Friday, according to local media reports.

"While we will continue with our rescue operations, there are many people at evacuation centers hoping for help so we need to gradually shift our work to addressing their needs," Kan said at a Cabinet-level emergency disaster headquarters meeting held at his office.

"It is most effective for the SDF to take charge of this task because they have the organizational power to do so, Kan said, with reference to transporting much-needed emergency supplies.

According to official figures, Friday's megaquake and tsunami have left 6,400 people dead or missing, with numbers expected to rise well above 15,000 people.

The National Police Agency said Tuesday that 2,722 people were confirmed dead in 12 prefectures in Japan, while 3,742 remained missing as of 3:30 p.m.

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