Return to Transcripts main page


New Fire at Japan Nuclear Plant; How Much Radiation is Safe?

Aired March 15, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, fresh quakes rock Japan as workers race against the clock to stop a complete nuclear disaster. It's worse than Three Mile Island. As damaged reactors leak radiation, shell-shocked residents are tested for dangerous exposure. Fear is spreading around the globe.

Now will a worried world turn its back on nuclear energy?

And new, extraordinary stories of survival and desperate tragedy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): I have a bad leg so my wife was behind me, cheering me on, saying, "one, two, one, two." The voice stopped. So I looked back, and she was not there. She's dead.


MORGAN: More than 10,000 people dead or still unaccounted for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): When the baby was born, it was right after I heard that the bodies of 200, 300 people were washed up. So rather than happiness, I felt a twinge of guilt.


MORGAN: Hopes dim for more rescues.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): All six people who were behind me were washed away. I could hear a voice from behind me saying, "Hurry up, hurry up," but I could not help them.


MORGAN: And as Japan struggles for cover from natural disaster, violence spreads in the Middle East. The latest from Libya and Bahrain.

This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

Good evening. We're getting extraordinary new stories from Japan tonight. Heartbreaking eyewitness accounts and remarkable videos that tell the story this disaster in a way that nothing else can.

Take a look at this. A car being washed away by a giant wave of water along what used to be a city street. Incredibly, the driver survives.

After the floodwaters recede, the devastation is stunning. A woman confronted with the ruins of her home. No words, just tears.

In the midst of a tragedy this magnitude, even a joyous event like the birth of a baby is bittersweet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): When the baby was born, it was right after I heard that the bodies of 200 to 300 people were washed up. So rather than happiness, I felt a twinge of guilt, and I cried. But I'm happy. It's just with mixed feelings.


MORGAN: And in perhaps the most astonishing images of all, people running for their lives, quite literally, as the tsunami sweeps through their town.

Now let's begin with the latest from Japan. Here's my colleague, Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Piers, day five of this disaster. And the problems just keep on growing, it seems. A fire broke out in reactor number four at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. This is the plant that has six reactors. Virtually all of them have had problems over the last several days.

There are now deep concerns about the spent fuel rods in reactors four as well as reactors five and six. Those reactors were offline when the tsunami struck. But they -- those reactors do contain spent fuel rods, which if -- which do not have the same kind of containment vessels that the fuel rods in the other reactors currently have.

The latest word from Japanese officials is that fire does seem to be under control, though exactly what that means is not clear. And a lot of details, frankly, about what is really going on inside those reactors is not clear. We've had conflicting report from Japanese officials over the last several days.

And again, the situation is not under control by any means. This is a major nuclear situation that we are watching very closely. That, of course, on top of the rescue and recovery efforts and the efforts to help those who have survived the earthquake and tsunami that hit so hard in northeastern Japan.

We're now hearing from relief officials that they have real concerns about food supply and water supplies in these evacuation centers where hundreds of thousands of people, more than 400,000 people are currently living and sheltering. Conditions are very crowded. Very difficult for the people who are there. And the freezing temperatures do not help at all. It's very difficult for relief workers to actually get to some of these hard-hit areas with the kind of heavy equipment that they need in order to figure out and recover the dead and find anyone who may still be living.

Though in these freezing temperatures it's hard to imagine somebody still being alive, buried deep in the debris. So this is a fast-moving situation. It is very fluid. Obviously the nuclear situation is -- is making the relief effort all the more difficult. Taking away tension by Japanese government officials and also raising real concerns for relief workers on the ground, particularly in areas within a few kilometers of the Fukushima plant.

We'll have a lot more on "360" tonight, Piers.

MORGAN: Radiation fears are increasing in Japan tonight. Meanwhile, a handful of brave workers remained in a crippled nuclear plant risking dangerous exposure as they battle to shut down the plant.

How bad is the crisis tonight? That's the question for CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no doubt, Piers, people have heard about the fires, they've heard about the explosions, they've heard about elevated levels of radiation near one of the nuclear reactors.

What I can tell you being on the ground here is that there's obviously a lot of anxiety about what is known, but almost as much anxiety if not more about what is unknown. Exactly what will that radiation do to people? What will it do -- will the levels go up? What it'll do in the people in the long run?

Here's what I can tell you based on some of the official numbers that we're receiving. The highest reading, for example, that we've seen was about 400 millisieverts. That may make your eyes glaze over just hearing that term, but 400 millisieverts is relevant because it gives you an idea of just how significant the leak was.

Now just, you know, living your life, background radiation that you're going to get is a few milisieverts. If you get a chest x-ray, a few more. Get a CAT scan, a couple hundred milisieverts. This 400 milisieverts was within the plant. And as soon as it starts to spread through the air, some of those particles start to decay, start to disperse, so the idea or likelihood that anybody would get much radiation is pretty low.

Low levels of radiation, a very low likelihood of either short- term or long-term medical effects.

In terms of protecting themselves, this idea of focusing on time, distance, and also shielding themselves. You want to reduce your time and exposure, you want to distance yourself from the exposure and shield yourself.

You've heard about people staying in their homes as a result, you know, trying to shield themselves, turning off their ventilation.

Another thing, you know, there are these personal dosimeters. It looks like this.

Piers, you know, this is basically something you wear in your pocket, your breast pocket. It tells you two things. First of all it tells you your cumulative radiation exposure. And also has an alarm built in here. If you have -- if you come in contact with a significant amount of radiation, it will alarm and tell you so you can distance yourself from that particular source.

But that's what's going on now here, Piers. I mean there's a lot of concern. These workers, a lot of them have left, but so many have stayed to try and control these reactors. It's really heroic work that they're doing. And as so many experts have told me, they are likely to pay the price because they are being exposed to significant amounts of radiation so other people around them won't have to.

Questions that remain to be answered -- what's going to happen to radiation levels over the next several days are? Are they going to continue to decline? Are there going to be significant increases again?

People are sort of holding their breath while waiting to answer those questions, Piers.

MORGAN: Sanjay, thank you very much indeed for that pretty harrowing report. And please stay safe yourself out there.

And now I want to bring in "The New York Times'" nuclear expert, Matthew Wald, to explain exactly what is happening at that crippled power plant in northern Japan.

Matthew, you're an expert in this area. What is going on? Is it as dangerous as it seems?

MATTHEW L. WALD, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The outcome still isn't clear. They have a good chance to get through this without enormous additional releases, but it could go in any number of different directions.

They had a fire in one of the reactors. There was some initial report it was the spent fuel pool which would have been really awful. It turns out to have been oil, lubricating oil in machinery near the pool.

They're now talking, though, about bringing in helicopters as they did at Chernobyl. In this case, though, the helicopters would drop water into the spent fuel pool. The spent fuel pool started out with maybe five or six times as much material as is in the reactor. And 30 feet of water over it.

It hasn't really been cooled since the power went off when the tsunami hit, and now that water is getting warm. It's going to boil. It's going to boil away. So that's one of their problems.

The other problem is they cracked the containment structure in one of the reactors. And they must continue to add water and vent whatever comes out in order to add more water. So they're committed to continuing releases.

MORGAN: How worrying is it that there are only 50 workers left now at the plant? There were 800, 750 have left. Are there enough people physically to do the job that's required?

WALD: They have no need to keep more people around than they absolutely need since all of them are soaking up dose. If this goes on, I'd imagine they're going to start rotating people through to share the dose as widely as possible.

That number of people probably can run diesel powered pumps, can run emergency generators and dump water into spent fuel pools and reactors. It's challenging work, and I suspect they will find volunteers to get it done. And I suspect they've sized their crew to the minimum they need.

MORGAN: How does this disaster compare -- this nuclear plant to something like Chernobyl?

WALD: In Chernobyl, a completely different kind of reactor. The reactor blew apart, and the fuel was blown all over the place. Then they had an enormous fire of graphite. There is no graphite used in this reactor. So the graphite at Chernobyl pushed the plume way up into the air, and it entered the stratosphere. It went for miles and miles.

In this case, there's less energy pushing out the radioactive material so they're closer to the ground. And they probably won't travel quite as far. But you know you can detect radiation in excruciating small quantities. We're going to see it on the west coast of the United States, probably see it in New York.

We'll see it globally eventually. It won't mean a whole lot because it will be in small quantities. I don't know how people will feel about that. But essentially it's going to turn up everywhere in the long run.

MORGAN: Finally, Matthew, how worried are you? How worried should Americans be? And particularly, how worried should the Japanese people be?

WALD: About this plant? If you're within a few miles, you ought to be worried. And that's why they've moved people out. If you're more than a few miles, you do have a potential to pick up significant dose, depending on the course of the next few days, the direction of the wind.

If you're farther away, you're likely to get some dose, but it may not be very much. And we don't know a whole lot with precision about the effects of small doses. There's a theory that every little bit hurts, but there's observational data that says we really can't demonstrate that.

MORGAN: Without wanting to be doom-laden about this, but what is the worst possible news that you would hear as an expert in this area from that plant?

WALD: Probably that the spent fuel spool is on fire because what would burn there is the metal cladding, and that's very difficult to put out. And that would disperse more radioactive material than is in the reactor itself, but with a little work, I think they can keep that from happening.

MORGAN: Matthew Wald, thank you very much indeed.

WALD: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: The nuclear crisis in Japan has changed some people's minds on nuclear power. But not everybody's.

Let's go to Capitol Hill now and speak to Senator David Vitter.

Senator, you remain steadfastly behind America's nuclear program despite what we've seen in Japan. Why are you confident this is the right way to go?

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Well, the main thing I've said, Piers, is not that, but it's simply that it's way too early to know. We don't have the facts and we need to base our future decisions on facts and science, not on ideology or hysteria. So that's the main thing I've said.

The second thing I've said is, look, we have an ongoing crisis going on in Japan. And we should first focus on that ongoing crisis and help and pray for the Japanese. Unfortunately, some folks around here want to use any ongoing crisis to immediately try to advance their pre-existing political agenda rather than first deal with the crisis and secondly actually gather the facts.

MORGAN: You can hardly blame them. I mean what we've seen here is not only one of the biggest earthquakes that we've ever seen, a terrible tsunami, and some very serious damage to these nuclear reactors in Japan.

And it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that in America people are going to say, well, hang on, what about here? We've got lots of reactors, many by the sea?


MORGAN: What's going to happen if the same thing happens here?

VITTER: Piers, it's an obvious question. I do blame folks, though, for jumping from there to saying we shouldn't build another nuclear power plant ever. And you actually have some folks up here like Ed Markey pretty much saying that.

The other reason I'm quite frankly agitated about it is this is exactly what went on during our BP explosion and disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. We were still suffering from an ongoing disaster with oil spewing into the gulf when people up here weren't focused on the crisis at hand, weren't focused on gathering the facts, they were just trying to use and abuse the disaster to fit their pre-existing political agenda.

That's what I really object to.

MORGAN: I mean I think that you -- you have an argument. What I would say, though, is there's a big difference between an oil spill and potentially what is going on at these nuclear reactor plants.

I mean, there were reports last night of radiation beginning to seep within the domain of Tokyo, for example. Quite clearly, this is an ongoing, very serious and dangerous situation, isn't it?

VITTER: Yes. I'm not arguing against that at all. It is an ongoing crisis, so our first response should be to help the Japanese with that ongoing crisis.

MORGAN: What would you say if this all unravels now in a relatively calm manner and they manage to bring these reactors under some kind of control without a huge series of further detonations down there? What are the lessons that we should learn from what's happened in regard to America's plants, do you think?

VITTER: Piers, I have no earthly idea. And I don't think anyone does. And that's really my point. We don't -- we don't have a full understanding of the facts at all. So let's deal with the crisis first, let's help the Japanese first with an ongoing crisis because lives are at stake.

It certainly is very serious. We don't know how it's going to turn out. And then let's gather the facts and see where the facts and the science lead us. But not let -- let's not be led just by ideology or pre-existing political agendas or hysteria.

MORGAN: I mean finally, Senator, all I would say back to you, playing devil's advocate on that point, is that have we got time to just sit here and wait and see what happens? There are a number of reactors in America which at any moment could be in a similar situation. Isn't that the point?

VITTER: I think it would -- I think it would be irresponsible to do otherwise. And again, I'm going to go back to the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration made decisions to completely shut down the gulf, not based on sound science because the scientists who were working for them actually disagreed with the moratorium. But based on politics and hysteria.

That has hurt people. That has cost people jobs, that has cost people livelihoods. That has absolutely hurt hard-working Americans. So their losses to acting too quickly in that way irresponsibly.

MORGAN: Senator Vitter, thank you very much indeed for your time. VITTER: Thanks, Piers, very much.

MORGAN: Are nuclear reactors in this country safe? I'll ask the experts next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): I have a bad leg and my wife was behind me cheering me on saying, "One, two, one, two." The voice stopped, so I looked back and she was not there. She's dead. When I went back to get my stuff, she was lying down in the foyer.


MORGAN: Desperate scenes from Japan. And in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis, should the world reconsider nuclear power?

Joining me now is James Acton, physicist with the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment and John Ritch, director of the World Nuclear Association and a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Let me start with you, Ambassador Ritch. Today the energy secretary, Stephen Chu, said that U.S. reactors are designed to withstand hurricanes and tsunamis, but given geologists' maximum predictions, is that actually enough?

JOHN RITCH, WORLD NUCLEAR ASSOCIATION: Well, Piers, I fully agree that there are important lessons to be learned by -- from what has happened at Fukushima. But I think it's crucially important that we learn the right lessons.

We already knew that every nuclear power reactor needs a reliable post shutdown cooling system. But what we learned from Fukushima is that we need to go back and take a look at every single nuclear power plant in the world and ask the question of whether that cooling system is truly secure against even the most radical conceivable weather event.

MORGAN: I mean let me ask a difficult question on that. As things stand given your knowledge of the nuclear power plants in America, how many of them would you think are able to withstands an earthquake of a magnitude we saw in Japan?

RITCH: Well, let's remember that the reactors in Japan were quite old. They had delivered reliable, clean energy to the Japanese public for 40 years. They had done so without mishap, without harm to the public for 40 years.

They were a part of a great record of impressive safety and energy delivery on the part of the nuclear industry which totals 14,000 reactor years of experience.

MORGAN: Let me bring in James Acton here. Mr. Acton, we've had bigger earthquakes than this in recorded history. Why when you design a nuclear plant would you not guarantee it could at least withstand the previous, biggest earthquake? Wouldn't that be the first point of thumb that you'd choose?

JAMES ACTON, PHYSICIST, NUCLEAR POLICY PROGRAM, THE CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Well, the problem with that is that you'd end up building a reactor in a zone that is not subject to earthquakes to withstand an enormous earthquake. And it would just be impossibly expensive.

What you have to do is design reactors to withstand the largest earthquakes you think are likely at that location, but that's very difficult.

But let me make a bigger point here, Piers, which is you've got to realize that all forms of energy generation carry risk. Nuclear carries risk as we have dramatically seen in the last couple of days. But fossil fuels also carry risk. The risk of catastrophic climate change. Renewables, which I absolutely support a lot of research and development and funding for, right now carry the risk of not being able to produce enough energy.

So we can't look for a risk-free solution for producing energy. And that I think has to be the starting point for the debate. How do we minimize risk?

MORGAN: Finally, Ambassador Ritch, do you think we're getting the truth out of the Japanese authorities?

RITCH: I do, but Piers, lets me make a point. You asked about earthquakes. The Japanese reactors survived very well the shutdown process after the earthquake of 2011. What went wrong was the post shutdown cooling system. And let me point to the future and provide an important fact that will provide great reassurance, I think, to publics all around the world.

And that is modern reactors that are now being designed and built all around the world contain post shutdown cooling systems that do not require human participation or the availability of electricity. They are going to operate a so-called passive safety systems that use natural principles of convection.

Physical principles that will be available to cool the reactor even if there are no humans present and electricity available. So this is what lies ahead. This -- the robustness for cooling systems that this -- that is need as demonstrated by Fukushima is being built into the reactors of the future.

What we need to do now, though, is go back and look at every existing reactor and make sure it has a sound cooling system for the post shutdown period. And that's the lesson -- the important lesson we take away from Fukushima.

MORGAN: Ambassador Ritch --

RITCH: I don't want to -- MORGAN: I'm going to have to leave it there. I'm sorry, gentlemen. I'm afraid we have to move on. But Ambassador Rich, James Acton, both, thank you very much for your time.

ACTON: Thank you very much.

RITCH: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: Coming up next, a real-life survivor story. Petra Nemcova on how she survived a tsunami.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): The volume of water was so high, the car wouldn't move. My daughter and I tried our hardest to push her up to this hill. She was so heavy, I let go of her hand. I think this is the area where it happened. I am thinking that I might have closure if I keep sitting here.


MORGAN: The human stories coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. But for most of us, surviving a tsunami is unimaginable.

My next guest, though, has done exactly that. Petra Nemcova went through the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and lived. Out of that experience, she funded the Happy Hearts Fund for children in disaster zones.

And Petra joins me now.

Petra, thank you very much for coming in. I can only imagine the kind of emotions you've been through in the last few days, reliving the horror of what you went through.

For people like most of us who've never been anywhere near a tsunami, what is the experience like when it happens?

PETRA NEMCOVA, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: The experience is just horrifying because you feel so powerless with the amount of power of the water. You feel afraid, what's coming next. You feel worried for your loved ones. Pain. And it's just -- for me, I never heard the word tsunami so I was not prepared.

I don't know what to do. How to -- how to save myself and others. And what happened after when I was in the hospital, more emotions are coming, emotions of frustration because I want to help others. And I was not able to help because my pelvis was broken in four places.

That's one of the reasons why I established Happy Hearts when later on -- to be able help in Thailand and now in nine countries around the world. We have rebuilt 50 schools since 2006.

MORGAN: When you saw the gentleman there who clearly was in exactly the same position that you were, caught up in this wall of water, nothing he could do, and he lost his loved one -- he doesn't know what happened to her. You lost your fiance. He died that day. You must have related absolutely to what -- the agony that he's going through.

NEMCOVA: The agony is so hard to imagine. And one thing is to not give up because there are many stories of hope and loved ones being found. And not to give up. It's very hard to go through that situation. One of the important things -- and it's probably hard to think about it at these difficult times.

But there -- one thing which I've seen personally are amongst the disaster, there was so much unconditional love around people being ready to sacrifice their own lives for others, for strangers, and all -- the whole world coming together and giving so much love. So that's something amazing, very positive.

And one thing which when I look at all the images and videos, what I see is a reminder of however connected we are. The world is like our body. And when a finger is hurt, the rest of the body is influenced. And we are influenced here in New York.

And I just hope that there's a lot of support coming for Japan, and not just now for the first response, but for the long run. And the importance of sustained response is as crucial as first response.

MORGAN: What is the most effective thing that Americans can do to help?

NEMCOVA: On the level of helping children, the best way for them to recover and start healing process is to go back to normalcy, to go back to school, which is safe. It helps them with recovery. And they -- the sooner they go there, the less scars they have.

For the whole country, I think it's so important to help now, but be there six months, one year later, and not to forget. Especially after Haiti, Bill Clinton has been stressing the importance of sustained response. And every time we go to a country of natural disaster, I see the same thing. After a couple of months, the help goes away. And children and whole communities are forgotten for two, four, six, ten years later.

MORGAN: Do you ever get over anything like this? Do you still have nightmares about it now?

NEMCOVA: You always will keep it inside. You always will live with it. It will never go away. But one thing I try to focus on -- not on the negative, but on something -- what I can learn and how through my experience I can help others. And that's why I'm helping through Happy Hearts Fund.

One of the really important things, as well, which we have seen is the importance of disaster preparedness. If something like what happened in Japan would happen in other parts of the world, the question is will we be prepared? And do we have emergency plans?

And it's something I hope that it slowly will be implemented or even in a fast way will be implemented at schools and in other places.

MORGAN: And finally, what would your message be to the people of Japan who are suffering so badly at the moment?

NEMCOVA: The message for them is that my heart is breaking looking at what they are going through. All my love is going to them. And as hard as it is, try to focus on something positive, even if it's one percent of -- and that will help with the recovery and healing process.

It is very, very hard. Even from my personal experience, every time when I went down, I said to -- I was trying to keep positive, and only through keeping positive I could recover. And it will be hard the next few days, next weeks, next months will be very hard.

But the fastest way to recover is to try be appreciative of the gifts which we have, seeing sunshine, being able to breathe in air, and I hope that the recovery, on a personal level and on a country level, will be very fast.

MORGAN: Petra, thank you very much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

NEMCOVA: Thank you. Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up, the disaster in Japan is being called the most expensive in the nation's history. What will it take for their economy to come back?


MORGAN: The loss of life and human suffering is a primary focus in any disaster. But the hit to Japan's economy is also massive. And here to talk about the country's ability to recover from this blow is Mohamed El-Erian. He's the CEO of PIMCO.

Mohamed, desperate tragedy in Japan. And it's obviously had an enormously negative impact on their economy, too. They've been through earthquakes before, but nothing quite like this. How are they going to bounce back?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CEO, PIMCO: With time, Piers. In addition to the devastating human suffering -- and no words can really capture the enormity of that suffering -- they also have to suffer through economic consequences. They had part of the national wealth destroyed. They're generating less income. And they're going to face higher inflation because of food and other shortages and disrupted supply chain.

So this is a country that is also going to go through an economic shock. Fortunately, it's a rich country. So as long as the private sector can repatriate some of the money that it holds outside the country, and as long as the country can borrow -- and they don't have much room for borrowing, but they can borrow a little bit. They can restore their economic well-being. But it's going to take some time. MORGAN: We've seen many Japanese companies halting production, from cars to Internet games and electronics and so on. What do you think will happen? When will they come back to production? What will that mean for prices, in terms of their exports going forward?

EL-ERIAN: Think of it in terms of they are producing and consuming less as a society. They're producing less because supplies are disrupted. The supply chain is disrupted. There's less electricity. There's less power generation. So they simply cannot produce as much, which means that whatever they sell to the rest of the world is going to go up in price.

But they're their also -- they also are consuming less, buying less. So what they buy from the rest of the world is going to go down in price. So one silver lining of this huge tragedy is that global oil prices have come down because the Japanese now are spending less. So think of it in terms of they are consuming less and producing less, and that's how they're impacting the rest of the world.

MORGAN: Obviously their stock market, Nikkei, has taken a huge hit in the last few days. Conversely, there's been quite good news on the economy in America. Is that going to be helpful to Japan, do you think?

EL-ERIAN: It's going to be helpful at the margin. So it's better that the U.S. is growing than if the U.S. were in a recession. But it's not going to make that much of a difference. I think Japan right now controls its own destiny. Once they get over the rescue element -- and that's really critical because there's lives involved here. Once they get over that, they're going to embark on a reconstruction program which is going to take a long time.

And hopefully that acts as a catalyst for what they've been missing for about 20 years, what they call the lost decades, which is enough domestic political unity to really put this country on a high growth path.

MORGAN: I hope that's the case. Mohamed El-Erian, thank you very much indeed.

One of the most striking things about the aftermath of the disaster in Japan is the calm and stoicism of the Japanese people. Joining me now is a man who spent a lot of time in Japan, "the New York Times'" Nick Kristof.

Nick, you were actually in Japan. You were the Tokyo bureau chief for "the New York Times" in the Kobe earthquake of '95. so you've been through a similar kind of a scenario then. What is it about the Japanese people that allows them to deal with such catastrophe in what appears to be such a remarkably calm manner?

NICK KRISTOF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think that we in America -- when we come across a crisis, we tend to come apart at the seams. We become unglued. We turn on each other. You're seeing that right now with the budget crisis. But the Japanese have been really reared from -- you know, from the time they were born to work together, to suppress individual yearnings, and to kind of pull together, to be stoical. Gamman (ph) is one of the things that every Japanese is taught to be, to kind of persevere, to pull through.

MORGAN: How this could deal with the recover process? Obviously, they had to do this in Kobe after that disaster then. What you witnessed then -- were they good at the recovery process? Are they very pro-active at getting things back on their feet again?

KRISTOF: In general, Japanese officials leave one with kind of a sense of horror, I mean, just a difficult grappling with crisis. On the other hand, Japanese people just filled me with admiration. The Kobe earthquake followed one in Los Angeles by a little bit. And in Los Angeles, there had been a lot of looting.

So I went all around and asked people about looting. And these Japanese police would say, yes, it's a real problem. I looked all over for looting. Finally, I found one apartment dweller who had lost two bicycles. But then it turned out that they had probably been used to rescue people.

Finally, I found one case where a little mini market had been robbed. Somebody had thrown a rock through it and grabbed stuff. I asked the proprietor, so, did you feel the Japanese would take advantage of this crisis. And he said, you misunderstand, it was a couple of foreigners who stole.

I did feel that this discipline, this stoicism, this Gamman was truly something beautiful to admire and something that we Americans can learn from.

MORGAN: Obviously economically, they're getting hammered at the moment. You would expect that. Do you think that they have that business drive that's going to be required to rebuild their economy in the country? Is that part of their psyche, as well?

KRISTOF: Yes, absolutely. Look what happened after World War II, when the country was rebuilt. And you saw the same thing after Kobe. Now, the Nikkei is down because there are some sectors -- manufacturing is going to be -- corporate profits are going to be hit really badly. But the construction industry, which is a central pillar of the Japanese economy, is going to benefit from this. And employment will benefit.

And so it's obviously a huge tragedy. But it does have some investments which it will support the Japanese economy as such.

MORGAN: Do you still have friends over there?

KRISTOF: Oh, of course. And I've been reaching out. And I've just been thinking back to maybe when we sent our kids to Japanese schools, and how much we learned from that. And the way kids were just taught to pull together. One of the things we learned was that there are no substitute teachers, that the kids look after their own class when the teacher is away. And it -- it doesn't work terribly well. They don't learn a lot, but they really do learn to create a measure of discipline and to work together and cooperate.

MORGAN: Which are exactly the qualities we're now seeing on the ground there, when many other countries would be in total chaos.

KRISTOF: Including the U.S. You know, if you think about it, Japan as essentially the size of California, a little smaller than California, but four times the population. If that was us, we'd be at each others' throats.

MORGAN: Nick Kristof, thank you very much indeed.

KRISTOF: My pleasure.

MORGAN: When we come back, how dangerous is the radiation? And what it would do to you? I'll ask an expert.



MORGAN: The world is watching Japan tonight and wondering how dangerous is the radiation leaking out of that crippled power plant? Joining me now is CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, there are four levels of radiation. Can you talk me through the relative toxicity of each of these?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, there are four different types of radiation, Piers. There's Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Neutron. Mostly when we're talking about this plant in Japan, we're talking about gamma radiation.

That type of radiation is particularly worrisome, because it can travel pretty far distances through the air. And also it penetrates the skin a couple of centimeters. So, as you might guess, there's a real serious long-term risk for cancer if -- and this is the big if, Piers -- if you get a high enough dosage of it.

MORGAN: What is the understanding of the levels of radiation coming out of this Japanese plant?

COHEN: We've been hearing that the levels of radiation are not quite at the level that you would see in order to have acute radiation sickness. We're talking about four millisieverts. Experts tell us that you start having problems let's say around 1,000 millisieverts.

I'm not say thing is good. You don't want to be exposed to this level of radiation. But they're not expecting this to cause huge public health problems.

Now, the big question is, one, is it going to get worse? And also the real concern is for the folks who are in the plant. That's where they're getting that 400 reading. Those are the folks who are trying to solve this problem. If those levels get a whole lot higher, can they really stay in that plant and keep trying to cool it down?

And what happen if they have to evacuate? It's a terrible scenario to think about.

MORGAN: It's extraordinarily heroic of them to be doing it at all.

Tell me this, if they are exposed to very high dosages of radiation, what physically happens to a human being when that happens to them?

COHEN: Right, it's interesting. Different kinds of radiation attack different parts of the body. So we're expecting that in this we have, for example, cesium or uranium iodine. Those would attack different parts of the body.

And acutely, what you could get is acute radiation sickness, vomiting and feeling terrible and burns on the skin. And longer term, you could get different kinds of cancer, depending on the type of radiation.

For this type, we might see leukemia. We might see liver cancer. We might see cancer of the thyroid.

MORGAN: Elizabeth, thank you very much indeed.

COHEN: Thanks.

MORGAN: While Japan struggles with natural disaster, violence is spreading across the Middle East. We'll a live report, next.


MORGAN: While the world's attention is focused on Japan, violence continues to spread across the Middle East. Here's Arwa Damon with the latest. Arwa, you're in Libya. Bring us up to speed with what's happening there.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been a fairly intense fight here. What we saw earlier in the day was an artillery barrage on the city of Azdavia (ph). The artillery creeping forward until it actually reached within the city limits itself, coming from pro- Gadhafi elements.

There were air strikes there earlier in the day, as well. And then we saw the opposition troops appear to flee. At a press conference later on in the day, the spokesman for the opposition military saying that that was, in fact, a tactical withdrawal. They did, however, tell us that pro-Gadhafi units -- a small unit managed to breach the city from the west.

They were, however, according to the opposition, driven back. Now saying that the pro-Gadhafi elements are on the outside of that city. The city itself in control of opposition forces. The city of Azdavia, of course, very critical, especially given its location just 160 kilometers east of the strong hold of Benghazi.

The opposition also, though, saying in this press conference that they do have some air and naval assets. They are saying that they did use these air assets to launch counterattacks against Gadhafi's forces. They're saying they used the naval assets to attack three oil tankers they say Gadhafi had changed or was using as warships, destroying two of them, sinking two of them, demolishing the third and claiming to have captured an oil tanker carrying 25,000 tons of fuel headed to Tripoli.


MORGAN: And what are you hearing from Bahrain, where there seems to be an escalation in violence there, as well?

DAMON: That's right. There has been. And there have been at least two people killed, 150 wounded in clashes between security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas in Bahrain. This comes after a week-long demonstration going on there that have at times turned very violent.

A few weeks, we did see demonstrators approaching security forces chanting peaceful, peaceful being getting gunned down. Now we have a situation in Bahrain where Saudi is sending in troops. There's certainly an escalation of the situation there, and very disturbing developments.

MORGAN: Arwa Damon, thank you very much indeed. Tomorrow night, I'll be reporting from the Middle East. I'm flying to Israel to interview Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Here's my colleague Anderson Cooper with "AC 360" from Japan.