Japan plant spews radiation in crisis escalation

UPDATE: Japan's nuclear safety agency says a fire in a reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan has been extinguished.

The fire broke out Tuesday at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in one of the hardest-hit provinces in last week's massive earthquake and tsunami.

SOMA, Japan (AP) — Radiation spewed Tuesday from a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan in a dramatic escalation of the 4-day-old catastrophe, forcing the government to tell people nearby to stay indoors to avoid exposure.

In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from four reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima province that was one of the hardest-hit in Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami.

"The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out," Kan said.

This is the worst nuclear crisis Japan has faced since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Kan warned there are dangers of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors to avoid radiation sickness.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said a fourth reactor at the complex was on fire and more radiation had been released.

He said the reactor, even though it was unoperational, was believed to be the source of the elevated radiation release because of the hydrogen release that triggered the fire.

"Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health. These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening. Far away, the levels should be lower," he said.

"Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don't turn on ventilators. Please hang on your laundry indoors," he said.

"These are figures that potentially affect health, there is no mistake about that," he said.

He said a reactor whose containment building caught fire Monday has not contributed greatly to the increased radiation. The radiation level around one of the reactors stood at 400,000 microsiverts per hour, four times higher than the safe level.

Officials said 50 workers are still there trying to put water into the reactors to cool them. They say 800 other nonessential staff were evacuated

The death toll from last week's earthquake and tsunami jumped Tuesday as police confirmed the number killed had topped 2,400, though that grim news was overshadowed by a deepening nuclear crisis. Officials have said previously that at least 10,000 people may have died in Miyagi province alone.

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