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Desperate bid to avoid meltdown

Britons are being advised to consider leaving Tokyo as workers continue their desperate attempts to prevent meltdown at Japan's stricken nuclear plant.

Military helicopters sprayed seawater onto damaged reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi, which has been rocked by a series of explosions and fires since Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

The efforts to cool reactors came as US officials warned of a shortage of water in a storage pool meant to stop nuclear fuel rods from overheating.

The Foreign Office (FCO) issued advice to any British nationals in - or to the north of - Tokyo to consider leaving the area because of the "evolving situation" in Fukushima and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications and power.

Early on Thursday morning, the FCO updated its advice, urging Britons to remain outside an 80km radius of the plant "as an additional precautionary measure". It said the call was in line with the US government's advice to its citizens in Japan.

Six days after the disaster, the official death toll reached more than 4,300, but experts believe the figure will climb to more than 10,000.

Police say more 452,000 people are staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities run short.

Meanwhile, an International Rescue Corps (IRC) team which wanted to help in the rescue effort said it was prevented from travelling to the disaster zone because the UK embassy in Tokyo refused to issue the necessary documentation. Willie McMartin said: "It is sheer disbelief that we got to Tokyo, that we were told that we would get the document provided we get a one-sheet letter from the embassy, and they refused it."

But Foreign Secretary William Hague pinned the blame for the aborted mission on the team's own failure to be properly equipped.

In a rare address to the nation, Emperor Akihito, 77, said: "It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead. I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy."


From Belfast Telegraph