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Japan Radiation 'Extremely High'; Unprecedented Exodus Out of Japan; Japan Nuclear Crisis 'Deteriorating'; Nuclear Industry Fights to Survive; Workers Still at Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant; Libyan Troops Gear up for Big Offensive

Aired March 16, 2011 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- three nuclear reactors damaged to the core. The crisis in Japan is said to be deteriorating right now. U.S. officials are suggesting the situation is more dire than many thought, with America's top nuclear watchdog saying radiation levels are extremely high. Freezing cold and snow adding to the hardship for quake and tsunami survivors there and hampering the rescue and recovery. More people now seem eager to get out of Japan all together.

And Wolf Blitzer's one-on-one interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Egypt. She's talking about the disaster in Japan, as well as the uprisings in Libya and across the region.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Wolf Blitzer is on his way from Egypt to Tunisia right now. We expect him to join us once he lands. But for now, let's bring in Isha Sesay at the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta for our live coverage of the crisis in Japan -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, we saw a new cloud of smoke spewed from Reactor Number Three at the Daiichi nuclear plant today. And that unleashed fresh fear about radiation exposure and a possible meltdown. The U.S. government is apparently is so concerned, that it's giving Americans different advice on evacuating the area than the Japanese have given.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

She's following the nuclear crisis for us -- Jeanne, what do we know?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Isha, in a very worrisome development, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Congress today that there may be no water in the spent fuel pool for Reactor Four at the Fukushima plant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY JACZKO, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool. We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool. And we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: At one point, smoke or steam could be seen rising from the plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says there is damage to the core of Reactors One, Two and Three.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YUKIO AMANO, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: We do not know the exact situation inside the reactor vessels. But the pressure inside remains above atmospheric pressure. This suggests that they remain largely intact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The U.S. is instructing Americans within a 50 mile radius of the Fukushima plant to get out or take shelter. And the U.S. military is not allowing its troops in that zone. It puts the U.S. on a different page than the Japanese, who are currently recommending a 12 mile evacuation radius.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANO: We do not know the exact situation inside the reactor vessels, but the pressure inside remains --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That recommen -- recommendation suggests that the advice the Japanese government is giving, based on the information it has, is different from the advice that we would be giving if this incident were happening in the United States of America. It is not about the quality of information. It is about the, you know, standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: At one point, tests on tap water 50 miles away from the plant found radiation. The levels were not high enough to harm human health and they later dropped, but radiation levels around the plant were so high, a plan to drop water from helicopters was abandoned and some workers at the site had to take cover for a time -- back to you.

SESAY: Jeanne, let me ask you this, how satisfied are your sources, as you speak to them, with the flow of information that they're getting from Japanese authorities?

MESERVE: Well, they understand that the Japanese are in the middle of a crisis, that they are handling a very, very, very difficult situation. But it's one reason why the U.S. sent its own experts and equipment to Japan, so they could get measurements, they could make their judgments, they could have the best idea of what was going on -- Isha.

SESAY: Jeanne Meserve, we appreciate it.

Thank you -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Japan's airports are filled with people desperate to get out, terrified of the potential for radiation exposure.

Joining us live from Tokyo now, CNN special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien -- Soledad, give us a sense how big is this exodus?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Huge, actually. And if you go to an airport like Narita Airport, Jessica, you see the lines literally snake for hours for people who get in and have to wait to try to get to the front desk so they can get on their flights -- massive. We've seen iReports and also reporters reporting for us from -- from that airport in Haneda, as well, which, you know, actually is a smaller airport. And still it was crowded.

When we flew in last night, things seemed to have tapered off a little bit. But we were on a pretty crowded flight. And a lot of that is -- you know, you heard what Jeanne Meserve was just reporting, which is a sense of conflicting, sometimes contradictory information coming out and people really nervous about what is the next step, what -- what lies ahead when it comes to this nuclear reactor situation, especially looking at the Reactors Three and Four today, is sort of been where the focus is, pulling the workers out, who have been working on the reactor, and putting them back in as the radiation levels dropped.

Things are in flux. It's a very fluid situation. And because of that, people are -- are feeling very, very nervous, very concerned.

YELLIN: Soledad, are the people you talked to expressing mistrust at their own government, frustration, they're not sure about the information or they're just fleeing because they're a little worried?

O'BRIEN: I think it's a combination of both. I think sometimes the information from one person will contradict somebody else's information. You'll see a -- a plume of white smoke above Reactor Number Three, for example, and then there will be a statement or a press conference where someone says, well, you know, It's really not that serious. So sometimes those things seem very contradictory. And I think there is a sense that, you know, are we -- are we, meaning the Japanese people, getting the full -- the full assessment from their officials. There's consistent calls for calm. And we've seen mostly calm. But people have -- have told me they're -- they're frustrated and concerned about what to do next. They don't really get a sense of what to do next, especially for the evacuees in some of those fishing villages really devastated by the tsunami, Jessica, that we went to visit. You know, they'd say, well, there's no food. There's no fuel. It's really bitterly cold. And we don't really know what the next step is. And no one has quite told us yet.

What do you know?

They would ask us.

So I think there is a little bit of a -- a growing frustration. But for the most part, the population has been incredibly calm. And -- and I think that people are just sort of opting in to -- taking an opportunity to get out of the country, if they can.

YELLIN: They have been remarkably calm. Thank you so much, Soledad -- Isha.

SESAY: Well, Secretary of State Clinton is keeping a close watch on the disaster in Japan, even as she travels through the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Our very own Wolf Blitzer is traveling with her and asked her about the nuclear danger right now and the threat of a full scale meltdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Are you confident that we're getting the full story from the government of Japan?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe, based on the feedback I'm getting from our experts -- because I'm not a -- a nuclear expert. I don't pretend to be. There was a lot of confusion, as there would be in any disaster. I mean if you're hit first with an earthquake and then you're hit with a tsunami and then you're trying to figure out what's happening to your nuclear reactors, it takes some time to get a handle on that.

I think now, our experts are probing deeply to get every piece of information they possibly can so that we can make our own judgments. As I said earlier, we will make the judgment as to whether to advise Americans to move or to leave based on our analysis. And, of course, that's what we owe the American people.

BLITZER: I know you're not an expert on this whole issue of nuclear energy, but you're a former United States Senator. You know something about it.

Is it time for the U.S. to reconsider nuclear power?

CLINTON: Well, I think we're going to have to ask a lot of hard questions after what we've seen happen, because all of the planning could not have foreseen what we have been witnessing. And, obviously, citizens who live near nuclear plants -- that was an issue that I was concerned about when I was a senator from New York. I lived near a nuclear plant in New York. Citizens near nuclear plants that are on or near earthquake faults, everybody is going to have a lot more questions than they had before. And they deserve very thorough, science-based answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: We're going to have a lot more of Wolf's one-on-one interview with Secretary Clinton. That's just ahead -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Isha, joining us now, CNN's Tom Foreman has some more information about the deteriorating situation at that Fukushima plant -- Tom, it sounds terribly bleak.

What -- what can you tell us about this development?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, I think it's more what I can show you.

Take a look at this. This is the plant beforehand. And we're going to move into our latest satellite image of what's been happening there.

These are the plants over here -- One, Two, Three and Four. And watch when I slide this across and show you what they look like now. This has been what has been captured by DigitalGlobe.

You can see the damage here, steam coming out of here, damage here, damage over here on Number Four.

What we know is that in Reactor Number One, you had a hydrogen explosion on Saturday.

In Number Two, we know we had an explosion on Monday and the containment vessel seems to be cracked, with fuel rods exposed there.

Number Three, we had a hydrogen explosion Sunday, suspected damage to the containment vessel, failure to cool the rods there and evaporation of pool water. Smoke rising from there. Plus, I'd like to point out that this one, and plus this one, Number Three, has plutonium in it, not just uranium. It's potentially the hottest.

But the big issue, of course, is Number Four over here. And I want to show you why Number Four matters. You talked earlier about this question of the rods being damaged there. This is where they keep them, right alongside the reactor itself. This was shut down when it started. These are the spent fuel rods. They must be kept in water because even though they're not as strong as the rods that are used in here, they still emit a tremendous amount of -- of radioactivity. They must be kept cooled down.

What we're being told by U.S. officials now is they believe that water has dropped beyond that, exposing these rods. If that is the case, first of all, the coating on these will start bursting into flames. That may be the source of these fires we're talking about. If that's happening, the ash and the smoke, spreading for miles and miles, would all carry cesium, which is one of the most cancer-causing agents involved here, a huge problem. That's what shut down a huge part of the area around the Chernobyl plant after that disaster.

But just as important for right now, as you're dealing with the other ones, if we move forward here, if those are exposed that way, what they will do is emit so much radiation -- from an expert I was talking to yesterday, and as others have backed up, that somewhere between 50 and 100 yards out here, you're talking about fatal doses. That's more than enough to make this overlap into the other reactor areas, which would just significantly impinge upon their ability to fight the potential of a meltdown in other areas. You're basically saying to people, you would have to truly risk death or maybe even take on a certain injury by going into this area to even work.

This is what we're being told now about Reactor Number Four, that those rods may be fully exposed.

And I simply cannot stress what an incredibly perilous event you have if that is the case. If there's no water over those rods, nothing to cool them down, then what you have is those rods -- even though they're not the most potent radioactive material here -- behaving like the most potent, because they're out in the open, with nothing really shielding them, as would be the case if they were inside the containment vessel, which, of course, they're not -- Jessica.

YELLIN: It's just so terrifying. It sounds so much more bleak than what we've been hearing from the Japanese government, at least, to date.

Thanks so much, Tom.

We'll continue to follow that throughout the hour.

And CNN's Brian Todd is with rescuers as they go from town to town. The weather is getting in the way of the search. We will get his latest report.

SESAY: And people who lived through the worst nuclear power accident here in the United States understand what the Japanese are going through. We'll revisit the Three Mile Island disaster and the fears that still exist there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: A 9.0 quake, a monster tsunami and now snow, rain, sleet, freezing cold and even the threat of mudslides -- it's making a catastrophic situation even worse.

Our Brian Todd is traveling in Japan with U.S. search and rescue crews.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in the town of Kamaishi, in Northeastern Japan. We got here this afternoon to find this scene here. It pretty much tells the story -- complete devastation in this neighborhood. These teams have to comb through all this rubble. It's very heavily concentrated.. And the houses clearly have been displaced, knocked into each other. There's a house that was knocked over and possibly into that other one over there, as these guys try to enter that house. You can see them over there. They're working against every conceivable obstacle over here -- tons of mud, debris all over the place.

You've got downed power lines. And the weather, obviously, has turned very, very bad and risky for these crews.

What are the added complications here of the snow?

CHIEF ROBERT ZOLDOS, U.S. TASK FORCE ONE: Well, there's a lot of complications that are added by the snow. First of all, the slip and fall hazards are obviously there.

TODD: Yes.

ZOLDOS: But the snow adds a -- a different element in that it does hide things. It makes a lot of the ground look identical all the way through and it makes it much harder for rescuers to identify what may be a pit, what may be an edge to a cellar. And so we could easily miss things so our people have to be much more directed on that.

TODD: It's a scene of complete destruction. But it's worth it for these guys to pick through every inch and make their way through the downed power lines, over all the objects, into the spaces, because the stakes are enormous, of course. But there is opportunity. There are voids seemingly everywhere you look. Under this house, spaces where people could be sheltering, waiting for these guys to arrive. Under here, everywhere you look, a possibility for rescue.

These guys have almost no room to operate, as they try to get into this house that's been turned completely on its side. Look at this. They've got to slide through these openings. They have nails around, all kinds of sharp objects. Here's a guy coming out.

What's incredible about these places is even with no sign of life, seemingly nothing to come back to, people keep coming back. There's a couple over there picking their way through this rubble that you can barely walk through, trying to get to their house and maybe find something that they can take back.

Late in the day here, the hope finding someone alive gave way to a desperate reality yet again. A body was found inside this house in one of the crevices. They covered it in a flowered blanket. So this area, like so many others devastated by the tsunami. No survivors found here in the wreckage. So we move on to the next area.

Brian Todd, CNN, Kamaishi, Japan.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

YELLIN: And Brian is joining us live from there -- Brian, a fascinating report.

And I have to believe weather isn't the only challenge they face. Will you talk a little bit about some of the other potential dangers and the mood among these rescue workers.

TODD: Well, Jessica, there are several potential dangers, aside from the weather. And the snow is still coming down here. One of them is, of course, the danger of aftershocks. Japan has experienced several since the first major quake. There have been several that have hit us in the areas where we have moved. At one point, there were -- I was with a crew on a kind of a fallen rooftop at an angle, where we were looking at a dog team going into a house. And we were hit with a fairly major aftershock and we were jostled around a little bit, but we hung on. There have been aftershocks all over the place. And, of course, now, with the snow kind of destabilizing things further, the aftershocks, of course, provide a greater danger.

And the problem is, you know, with the snow, it adds weight to the structures. It, of course, makes them more slippery. And as -- as you heard the battalion chief say, it kind of blankets the whole area. And you don't know whether you're stepping into a void or stepping on solid ground, whether you're on a pile of rubble, on a building or somewhere else. And then you get hit with an aftershock. It is extremely treacherous right now for these crews.

YELLIN: Brian, here in the U.S., we're watching the situation with the nuclear reactors closely.

I'm curious, to what extent are the people you're with concerned about radiation exposure?

Are you near any of these damaged plants?

TODD: We're not near enough to them to -- to really cause a lot of major concern among the crews here. They have, of course, doctors on the teams with us. They're monitoring everybody very closely. They have dosimeters all over the place. And, of course, they're in close touch with the U.S. government, the top levels of USAID and the Japanese government, to always monitor that. Right now, they're confident where we are and the areas that we're moving, that we're all right. Right now, we're about 120 miles or so northeast of the Fukushima plant.

We're going to be moving farther north today. So right now, we -- we seem to be OK.

YELLIN: All right, Brian.

Thanks for your fantastic reporting.

Stay safe -- Isha.

SESAY: Well, Jessica, the consequences of radiation exposure -- they can be immediate, long-term and potentially deadly. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, explains in a live report coming up from Japan.

And unimaginable challenges facing the people who survive the quake and tsunami. We'll have their stories coming up.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: We'll get back to the disaster in Japan in just a moment.

But first, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a major development in a legal case that's caused friction between the U.S. and Pakistan -- Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi.

Well, Jessica, a CIA contractor charged in Pakistan with murdering two men is on his way back to the United States. Pakistani authorities released Raymond Davis from jail today after the victims' families pardoned him. Lawyers connected to the case say the families were each paid around $1 million in compensation. Davis said he killed the men in self-defense during a robbery attempt.

A curfew is in effect in of the Bahraini capital after a day of violent clashes. Witnesses say police attacked anti-government demonstrators using live ammunition. But government officials insist it was protesters who went after police, even killing two of them with their cars. In another clash in the capital, witnesses say security forces stormed a hospital and beat up doctors. The government denies that.

And boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, is appealing directly to Iran's supreme leader in the case of two American hikers jailed in Tehran. Ali pleads for the release of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer in a letter to the Ayatollah -- Ayatollah Khamenei. He says, quote, "Please show the world the compassion I know you have in your heart. Allah is most merciful."

Fattal and Bauer have pleaded not guilty to spy charges. Their trial is set to resume in May -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Thank you so much, Lisa.

The nuclear crisis in Japan is reminding many Americans of the partial meltdown in this country three decades going ago.

What did the U.S. learn from the Three Mile Island disaster?

SESAY: And the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is warning that radiation levels in Japan are extremely high. We'll talk about what that means and how worried we all should be.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: The breaking news this hour -- U.S. government officials are suggesting the nuclear crisis in Japan is far more serious than authorities in the disaster zone are letting on. America's top nuclear watchdog told Congress today that, quote, "Extremely high radiation is coming from Reactor Four" at the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant. And the U.S. government now is advising Americans to move at least 50 miles away from the plant.

Japan has ordered evacuations at least 12 miles from the plant.

In the midst of this unfolding catastrophe, many Americans are now wondering about the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. And they can't help but be reminded of the worst nuclear disaster right here in the U.S., at Three Mile Island.

Let's bring in our Mary Snow -- Mary, there are some painful memories being reawoken.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Painful memories, yes, Isha. But 32 years after the accident at Three Mile Island, there are few signs of the partial meltdown that occurred there. And many people who lived through the accident never left the area.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): These stacks at Three Mile Island rarely faze many of the residents here in Central Pennsylvania. But they evoke memories of a national nightmare -- the site of the worst nuclear accident in America's history back in March of 1979. Americans tuned in to the Nightly News to hear this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM/"CBS EVENING NEWS")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. The world has never known a day quite like today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: It turns out, there were no deaths from the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. Studies done since the accident report no long lasting injuries. Life has carried on.

(on camera): There are two units here at Three Mile Island. Unit Two, you can see behind me, is where the accident happened. More than three decades later, Unit One is still open. And the company operating it says it provides electricity to 800,000 homes.

(voice-over): Deb Fulmer, a professional nurse, tells us she was comfortable raising her children in the shadows of Three Mile Island's nuclear reactor.

****30 SNOW: And the company operating it says it provides electricity to 800,000 homes.

(voice-over): Deb Fulmer, a professional nurse, tells us she was comfortable raising her children in the shadows of Three Mile Island's nuclear reactor. DEB FULMER, NURSE: I look out my window and see the reactors every morning. It's just -- it's just something we live with. It's just a way of life. I still hear the jokes from people, but this is where we live.

SNOW: Fulmer was among tens of thousands of people in the immediate area who evacuated after then-Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh ordered an evacuation of pregnant women and preschool children. Thornburgh says at the time he was getting faulty information that added to the panic.

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FMR. PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: That becomes very frustrating because you have to rely on the experts to tell you precisely what's going on, and oftentimes those experts don't know themselves.

SNOW: Five days after the nuclear accident, Thornburgh toured the power plant with then-President Jimmy Carter to try to instill confidence. But 32 years later, longtime resident Eric Epstein is still a skeptic, and now serves as an independent nuclear energy watchdog.

ERIC EPSTEIN, TMI ALERTS: There's a form of psychological terrorism that occurs during a nuclear accident because you don't know how it's going to turn out and you really don't know how it's going to be affected. And to be frank, neither do the experts.

SNOW: Much has changed inside the plants at Three Mile Island in terms of safety procedures. And while many here are not afraid to live near the plants, some fear still exists.

(on camera): Do you still get nervous?

FULMER: Sometimes when we hear the sirens going off. I mean, they test the sirens sometimes. But after 30 years of having listened to sirens being tested, when one goes off I stop in my tracks for a few seconds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Deb Fulmer, who you just saw there, is a nurse who travels to disaster areas. She tells us she's been to Haiti, Afghanistan, and now expects to go to Japan. But she's very worried about the threat from radiation.

And Isha, as for Three Mile Island, that cleanup took more than a decade, and operators put the cost at about $1 billion.

SESAY: Incredible.

Mary, let me ask you this. I know that with the situation in Japan there's a lot of talk about potassium iodide tablets and how they can help as a precautionary or a treatment measure depending on levels of radiation you're exposed to.

What about the folks on Three Mile Island? Is this something that they are talking about? Are they trying to get their hands on tablets like this? Do they have them?

SNOW: Well, you know, they have them, Isha. We were talking to a couple of families who say they first got these tablets when the accident happened. But through the years, they have always kept them on hand. And if they don't have them in their home, they say they know where they can go to a local fire station, for example, where they can get their hands on them.

SESAY: Mary Snow really bringing to light the fact that there's still some very painful memories surrounding all of this.

Mary, we appreciate it. Thank you -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thank you so much, Isha.

Imagine now scenes like this happening here in the United States today, hundreds or even thousands of people being tested for radiation exposure. The disaster in Japan may be threatening public and political support for nuclear power right here in the U.S.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

And Dana, I have to imagine this has a lot of worried folks up on Capitol Hill.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The crisis in Japan, Jessica, is no doubt raising a lot of questions in Congress about U.S. nuclear power plants, and industry lobbyists with good connections and deep pockets are working hard to tamp down that growing concern.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): There's a reason Alex Flint is moving so fast to get to Capitol Hill. He's a top lobbyist for the nuclear energy industry walking the halls of Congress, trying to reassure lawmakers watching Japan. He is worried support for U.S. nuclear power could unravel.

ALEX FLINT, NUCLEAR ENERGY INDUSTRY LOBBYIST: It is going to be nonstop for several hours here up on the Hill, and then we're running 24 hours a day right now.

BASH: Flint, a former top Senate aide-turned-lobbyist, is taking industry executives to closed-door meetings all over Capitol Hill.

FLINT: All we're doing is sharing information. We've got a set of frequently asked questions about the situation in Japan.

BASH: This briefing drew 150 congressional staffers. CNN was allowed inside only after it was over.

FLINT: We think that we've got procedures in place that make us prepared if something like this were to happen in the United States.

BASH: Flint is careful not to sound like he's pressuring lawmakers at such a sensitive time, but there is no question he's trying to hold on to bipartisan support for nuclear power that has been building over the years. Yet, already, some powerful backers of nuclear energy are wavering.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I-CT), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: It would be irresponsible not to step back and learn some lessons, if there are some, which I'm sure there will be, from what's happened in this disaster in Japan.

BASH: Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to wait for more information about Japan's crisis before approving pending permits for new U.S. nuclear plants beyond the 104 now operating.

And now in question on Capitol Hill, $36 billion in loan guarantees President Barack Obama requested for more nuclear power plants which the industry desperately needs to expand. The president says nuclear power should be a key source of energy. His energy secretary urged lawmakers not to make rash judgments.

STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY: It's probably premature to say anything except we will learn from this.

BASH: Other top lawmakers agreed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We ought not to make American U.S. domestic energy policy in the wake of a catastrophic event.

BASH: But nuclear energy lobbyists like Flint are taking nothing for granted.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And boy, is he taking nothing for granted. Check out this video.

That's Alex Flint, the nuclear energy lobbyist. He's right over the shoulder of Energy Secretary Steven Chu as he testified all morning on Capitol Hill today -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Out front and center right there, Dana.

This is -- energy policy is also big business. How much -- do you know the nuclear energy spent lobbying -- the industry spent lobbying Congress?

BASH: Well, last year it was $2 million -- $1.7 million to be exact. Now, to be sure, that's nowhere near the hundreds of millions that big oil companies spend on lobbying Congress, but it is significant for the smaller nuclear energy sector, especially when you look at how much they spent just five years ago. You see that back in 2005. It was just $750,000.

Now, the nuclear power industry really has stepped up their efforts as prospects for expanding nuclear power here in the U.S. has gained traction. And Jessica, that has happened on both sides of the aisle.

YELLIN: And it's paid off so far. It looks like the administration and Congress is so far standing behind their plans to back these new plants.

BASH: It sure does.

YELLIN: OK. Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Thanks, Jess.

YELLIN: As rescue workers search for survivors in Japan, crews scramble to prevent a nuclear meltdown at a damaged power plant. Anderson Cooper has all the latest developments live from Tokyo.

SESAY: But first, more on the heroes of that mission, the workers at that nuclear plant who are risking their own lives for the greater good.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Want to show you this picture. These pictures coming into us here at THE SITUATION ROOM, new images of the devastation that hit coastal Japan. These are pictures coming to us from Kesennuma. It's a coastal city in Miyagi Prefecture which, as you probably know by now, is one of the worst hit by the quake and resulting tsunami.

You see the scale of the devastation. And in the midst of those ruins you have search and rescue going amongst the wreckage trying to find survivors. It is a very hard job.

You can see what looks like drizzle falling on the scene. They're dealing with very cold temperatures. They're dealing with aftershocks, and they're dealing with such huge expanses of land, that they have to get across. And so much to wade through.

But we know that they're not stopping long because they have to keep moving. There's so much land they have to cover.

Jessica, every time you see the pictures, you know, I said it over and over again, it is still so shocking.

YELLIN: It's hard to look at, and it is heartbreaking. And of course the tragedies aren't even over yet, because inside the crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant there's still 180 workers left there, working now virtually around the clock to avoid a full-fledged meltdown.

Some people are calling them heroes. CNN's Anna Coren has more on that from Tokyo.

Hi, Anna.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, they're amazing men, aren't they, making the ultimate sacrifice. They've been in there now for six days. We are coming into the sixth day of this crisis.

They are trying desperately to cool those spent fuel rods. They've been pumping seawater on to these spent fuel rods in these pools, but it turns out that reactor 4, it would seem that the water has all dried up. That is the major concern today.

So, these men, they are in this plant, 180 of them, as you mentioned. And they are doing everything that they possibly can, Jessica, to contain the situation.

You know, we went out on the streets of Tokyo yesterday and spoke to some people about these heroic people who are virtually risking their lives. You know, they are being exposed to such high levels of radiation, and one man said to me, you know, "I couldn't do this. What they are doing is amazing because they are saving lives."

But we do know that one of those workers is a 59-year-old man. He was only six months away from retiring, and he actually volunteered for the job.

His wife said that he felt it was his role to protect the people of Fukushima and give them assurance that everything is going to be OK. But really, Jessica, that's only a matter of time as to whether they can actually contain the situation.

YELLIN: It's obviously noble of all these people, what they are doing. It's just remarkable.

My question is, do we have a sense -- are any of these people being compelled to do it? Has the government ordered them, or are they all volunteers, or do we not know?

COREN: There is such limited information that's coming out. We actually contacted the power company that runs this plant, and they refused to disclose any information about these workers.

From this one particular newspaper report talking about this 59- year-old man, he actually volunteered. So we do know that he volunteered, that his daughter also said that she felt it was her father's duty.

You know, this is one of those things here in Japan where you speak to people, and you say, you know, what these men are doing is just such a heroic act. And they say, yes, it is, but it is also their duty. They chose to do this work, so it is up to them to fix the situation.

But, of course, as we know, this is such an enormous, enormous, you know, situation that is unfolding in front of us, and they really do need help. Experts are saying, why aren't bodies doing more, international bodies doing more?

We know that the chairman of the IAEA, he's coming to Japan. We know that the U.S. has offered their assistance as well. But, you know, here in Japan, it's culture where they are extremely proud, so international organizations, they need to be asked to get involved -- Jessica.

YELLIN: It's duty, but also enormous sacrifice. Thank you so much, Anna -- Isha.

SESAY: Jessica, Moammar Gadhafi's forces in a celebratory mood as they prepare for a major offensive against opposition forces.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells our very own Wolf Blitzer what she thinks about Gadhafi's chances of victory.

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SESAY: New video coming into us here at THE SITUATION ROOM, once again underlining the scale of the destruction.

We're getting word now that at least 13,000 people are dead or missing as a result of the quake and the resulting tsunami. Some 450,000 people living in shelters. It is a huge undertaking for all those searching for the dead and the missing -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Astonishing pictures there, Isha.

And switching gears now to another major story, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, they're gearing up for a major offensive against strategic rebel-held towns in the east of that country. Thousands of troops are gathering outside of Ajdabiya, and they are heavily armed.

Our Wolf Blitzer sat down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked about Moammar Gadhafi's offensive during his one-on-one interview in Egypt.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Let's talk about Libya. It looks like Gadhafi has won.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: No. I would not accept that premise.

BLITZER: He's moving ahead and he's beginning to go directly towards the rebels in Benghazi.

CLINTON: Yes, that is true. He is moving ahead, and so is the international community.

There is a greater urgency and intensive effort in reaction to the Arab League statement on Saturday. And what we're seeing in New York right now is intensive negotiations over what the international community could agree to that would protect innocent people in Libya and try to prevent Gadhafi from wreaking havoc, murder and mayhem on his own people.

BLITZER: It sounds like it's going to be too little, too late. CLINTON: Well, I'm not prepared to accept that. I think that there was no appetite anywhere in the world with a very few exceptions for unilateral action, because unilateral action was specifically prohibited by the Security Council. And I know from our own experience now that it's better to have the international community behind you if you are able to do so.

And once the Arab League said, look, we want you to take action against a fellow member of the Arab League, which was extraordinary, there has been a redoubling of efforts. Now, there are countries that are deeply concerned about doing anything, but a lot of their doubts have been ameliorated by the strong stand of the Arab League.

BLITZER: It wasn't such a strong stand. They said they would support a no-fly zone, but they also said you can't bomb the air defense systems of Libya. So the United States is not going to do a no-fly zone and not go ahead hand take out their anti-aircraft batteries.

CLINTON: Well, no one is, because that would put pilots in danger. And part of what is being discussed in detail is, what is the level of Arab leadership and participation in any actions that would be authorized by the Security Council?

BLITZER: If the Arab League wants a no-fly zone, they have air forces. Saudi Arabia has a lot of F-15s, F-16. Qatar has an air force, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan. Why don't they do a no-fly zone?

CLINTON: Well, I think that they, too, recognize that it is the Security Council which should authorize any such action. But as part of the deliberations in the Security Council in New York, as we speak, there is a lot of effort to really detail what Arab participation and leadership would be, because obviously the Arab League statement is an important step, but it needs to be followed up on.

BLITZER: Here's what I'm afraid of and a of people in Libya are afraid of, and friends of Libya, that there's about to be a blood bath in Libya right now. And the world is just going to let it happen.

It sort of reminds me -- I went to Rwanda with President Clinton in 1998. And he was very moved. He said, You know, I knew what was happening in the Oval Office, but I didn't do anything and I regret that. It was one of the biggest mistakes in my life."

And I'm concerned right now that the world is sort of talking about this, but Gadhafi is about to start slaughtering people.

CLINTON: Well, you know, Wolf, I get up every day and I look at reports from around the world. We have violence in Cote d'Ivoire. We have violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have flare- ups of violence in many other parts of Africa.

We have a lot of problems that are crying out for resolution. But not every one of those can be unilaterally addressed by the United States.

That is why I think President Obama has been absolutely correct in saying Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to govern. If there is to be any action taken against him to try to help the opposition and to protect the civilians, it must be authorized by the international community, because you hear the same things I hear.

You know, on one hand, people say, OK, United States, go do this. On the other hand, people say, well, if the United States does that, it's just because they're after the oil. And, no, we don't want any ambiguity. Only the Security Council can authorize action. And if they do authorize action, there needs to be a true international response, including Arab leadership and partnership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Coming up, more of Wolf's interview with the secretary of state. They'll talk about the situation in Japan and what Clinton sees as her future role -- Isha.

SESAY: Well, fears about the possibility of a nuclear meltdown in Japan are growing by the hour. CNN's Anderson Cooper is live in Tokyo with the very latest on what crews are doing at those crippled reactors to avert another major disaster.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: About 200,000 people or more have been evacuated from the area near the troubled Daiichi nuclear plant. Many are packed into shelters, but some have decided to leave the country altogether, at least for now.

Here's CNN's Paula Hancocks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is Tokyo's Narita Airport. Now, it is certainly more busy than normal, but there's no sense of panic among people that are trying to get out of the country today.

Now, we've heard from some airlines. They've told us that, yes, they are busier. And they are considering on putting on extra planes.

We've also heard from Japan's immigration office, saying that they have records showing that more Japanese citizens have been leaving the country since Sunday. And it does seem to me personally as though there is a much higher proportion of foreigners than you would expect at a Japanese airport.

One man said he had to leave with his family because he lives too close to Fukushima nuclear plant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just watching TV, and I was just, like, let's go. So, about 9:00 p.m. on Monday, we just jumped in the car, and we just headed for the mountains, directly away from the nuclear power stations.

HANCOCKS: Another man who works for a large multinational company told me that it is a very personal decision if he wanted to leave, but all his friends have decided to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe what I've been told. You know, people are evacuating. All foreigners are evacuating. Large multinational companies, foreign companies, are evacuating. So you don't really know what to believe. So it's just better to play it safe.

HANCOCKS: Now, everyone we've spoken to so far here says that their decision has nothing to do with the earthquake, nothing to do with the tsunami. Their decision is purely based on worries about the nuclear plants.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, at the Narita Airport in Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Thank you, Paula.

The U.S. now is urging Americans to leave at least 50 miles away from the nuclear plant that's in crisis in Japan. We'll get an expert opinion on the levels of radiation coming from that plant. And our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, will talk to us about the health risks of radiation exposure.

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