Japan nuclear plant explosions raise fears

SOMA, JAPAN—Anxious neighbours of a stricken nuclear plant accused the government Tuesday of hiding the truth about possible radiation risks, compounding the misery of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“I don’t think they are telling us the truth. Maybe even they don’t know,” said Toshiaki Kiuchi, a 63-year-old innkeeper whose business was flooded waist-deep by Friday’s tsunami.

Soma lies 50 kilometres north of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant on Japan’s northeastern coast, where the quake and tsunami knocked out power, crippling cooling systems. A series of explosions in the plant’s generating units have raised fears of radiation leaks.

The disaster has fuelled fallout fears in Japan, which relies heavily on nuclear power but whose public is especially sensitive to radiation due to the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We are really afraid, as if we didn’t already have enough to worry about. You can’t see fallout so we are totally relying on them for our lives,” said Shinako Tachiya, 70. A lifelong resident of Soma, she was cleaning up her lightly damaged house on high ground overlooking the ravaged town.

The tsunami swept houses off their foundations and carpeted shores with the debris of shattered buildings, wrecked cars and boats.

The town lies 20 kilometres outside the evacuation zone the government threw up Tuesday around the Fukushima plant but residents worry they could be threatened by further nuclear problems.

“I used to believe the nuclear power officials, but not now. I think they are not being open with us. They aren’t telling us anything,” said Tachiya.

Kiuchi said: “The only information we get is what we see on TV or hear on the radio. They don’t tell us anything about our safety, just technical jargon and warnings to stay out of the official evacuation zone.

Panicked residents raced out of town Monday night after a second explosion was reported.

“We have to get out of here now!” one man said. “It’s just not safe anymore.”

The tsunami left a fishing boat blocking Kiuchi’s front gate. Windows were shattered and burst pipes spewed water out front.

“I have no way of getting out of here if we were ordered to leave. My car was wrecked,” said Kiuchi. “But this is where we live. They built a nuclear facility here, so we just have to deal with it.”

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