Amid concerns of wider contamination, a nuclear safety official said the government was caught off-guard by the accident's severity and only belatedly realized the need to give potassium iodide to those living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.
The pills help reduce the chances of thyroid cancer, one of the diseases that may develop from radiation exposure. The official, Kazuma Yokota, said an explosion at the plant's Unit 3 reactor last Sunday should have triggered the distribution. But the order only came three days later.
(AP) A man walks past a store building tangled with fishing nets and buoys washed away by the March 11...
"We should have made this decision and announced it sooner," Yokota told reporters at the emergency command center in the city of Fukushima. "It is true that we had not foreseen a disaster of these proportions. We had not practiced or trained for something this bad. We must admit that we were not fully prepared."
While four of Fukushima's six nuclear reactors have been dangerously overheating since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disrupted cooling systems, Unit 3 has proved particularly troublesome.
After the government said Saturday that the unit appeared to be stabilizing after being doused with water, nuclear safety officials said the efforts may not have worked. Pressure was rising again inside the reactor's containment vessel, requiring a release of radioactive gas to prevent a more dangerous buildup, said safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama.
The venting is an "unavoidable measure to protect the containment vessel," Nishiyama said. He warned that a larger amount of radiation would have to be released than when similar venting was done a week ago because more nuclear fuel have have degraded since then.
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