Updated from 5:10 a.m. EDT
) -- The No. 3 reactor at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant may be cracked and could be leaking radiation, the country's nuclear regulator said.
Workers in protective suits spray water at the damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in northeastern Japan. Photo from TEPCO via Kyodo News.
"It's very possible that there has been some kind of leak at the No. 3 reactor," Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in Tokyo Friday,
While radioactive water at the unit most likely escaped from the reactor core, it also could have originated from spent fuel pools stored atop the reactor, Nishiyama said, according to
reported workers who suffered burns while trying to cool the reactor were exposed to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than expected, adding to fears that the containment vessel for nuclear fuel was cracked.
Workers at the plant had been making progress in containing radiation leaks after a massive, 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami rocked Japan's northeastern coast two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Friday the situation at the nuclear plant wasn't getting worse but described it as "nowhere near the point" of being resolved,
"We must continue to be on our guard," Kan said.
Japan on Friday urged tens of thousands of people living in a 12-mile to 18-mile zone beyond the crippled plant to leave the area,
Separately, the U. S. State Department began distributing potassium iodide Friday at a hotel in Tokyo to all U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport who requested the medication,
Applicants were asked to sign a release agreeing to hold the U.S. government "harmless for the provision of this medication," according to
. Potassium iodide blocks radioactive iodine from being taken into the thyroid gland, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The death toll from the quake and tsunami on March 11 rose to above 10,000 with 17,443 people missing, Tokyo's National Police Agency said.
-- Written by Joseph Woelfel
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