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WORLD REPORT: Libyan Civil War; Japan Nuclear Crisis; Fukushima Emergency Exit; Radiation Levels Rising; Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Addresses Media; Warren Christopher Dies

Aired March 19, 2011 - 03:00   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And hello. From CNN Center, I'm Natalie Allen.

We want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We are keeping a close eye on two developing stories this hour.

First, in Libya, the AFP reports air strike and explosions Saturday morning in an area southwest of Benghazi.

CNN has not independently confirmed these reports. If true, they come on a government claims its troops are observing a cease fire. Opposition forces said Friday they came under heavy bombardment from government troops.

The U.S. and its allies are meeting in Paris today to discuss implementing a U.N. resolution that imposes a no fly zone over Libya.

Now, to Japan, where crews at a damaged power plant continue efforts to avert a nuclear catastrophe. Some success is being reported in efforts to cool the plants' nuclear reactors. In the meantime, the International Atomic Energy Agency says Japan's nuclear situation did not worsen Friday even though Japanese officials raised the crisis level.

So we begin in Japan where there is some progress being reported at that crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. And that is where engineers have been working on a number of things, including the restoration of power to the facility's water pumps.

Anna Coren joins me now in Tokyo with the latest on that.

Plus, Anna, I was told just a few seconds ago that the Japanese Defense Ministry has released the first pictures from inside the plant. What do you know about that?


They just held a press conference and released video taken by the military inside this plant.

It shows that the tank is firing water into reactor three. This of course is the number one priority. This is where they think the pool containing these fuel spent rods has the least amount of water. So they need to cool it down.

And that is what these pictures are showing. These fire trucks spraying water directly into the reactor. You can see steam coming out of the top of the reactor. It's also where the hydrogen explosion took place. The reactors burned out. There is a lot of debris.

Of course, we will bring our viewers those pictures as soon as we can get them. That is what the defense ministry has shown us.

Of course we know that super pumper operation is also underway on reactor three. This, of course, is where they are sucking water directly out of the ocean, continuously into another truck and spraying it through an extended arm some 22 meters high, directly into reactor three.

So this is happening continuously for the next seven hours. It will be unmanned. So they have no issues as far as exposure to radiation as far as itself.

But there are some 300 personnel on the ground working tirelessly to try and contain this situation. They are of course trying to restore power to all six reactors. That has happened to two, number five, and number six, but the other four that is yet to happen -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes. And while try to avert catastrophe anyway they can, it's almost overshadowed the other catastrophe which is the humanitarian debacle from all of this.

What is the latest on continued rescue efforts, Anna? Any hope there? And, of course, the situation with so many people in the shelters and whether they have enough support and supplies to sustain them.

COREN: I know the scale of this disaster just continues to grow every single day. We know the death toll stands at some 7,000 and that the toll of the missing is in excess of 10,000. But authorities say that that will rise.

We know that the relief effort underway is on a massive scale. Some 82,000 military personnel are involved.

We do know that there are at 16,000 people who are isolated. These are people in these communities which are inaccessible at the moment, but they are in dire need of food, water, medical supplies, just basic necessities.

You have to remember that the people that fled this area before the tsunami hit, they just left with the clothes on their backs. So they are in desperate need of shelter, of warm clothes, of food. You know, just like I said, basic, basic supplies.

So, this is an operation underway, Natalie, and we know that international organizations are wanting to take part. And I think that is kind of the frustration. We spoke to the Red Cross a short time ago and they said it was like going to Hell and back, witnessing some of the scenes in the northeast of the country -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Appropriate way to put it, and you have seen it as well. Incomprehensible trying to take care of so many people.

Anna Coren, for us in Tokyo.

Anna, thank you.

Well, we want to take you back now to a week ago Friday when the 9.0 quake initially struck. It was the middle of the afternoon. So, not surprisingly, some people were inside that Fukushima power plant at the time and desperate to get out.

Chris Hope was one of them.


CHRIS HOPE, INSIDE FUKUSHIMA PLANT WHEN QUAKE HIT: As soon as the quake started to get to the point where it was extremely violent, we knew that we needed to get out of the building and were a little afraid of possibly the building collapsing on top of us. So, we made a break for the hallway. And as we entered the hallway, we noticed that these large steel fire doors had come closed and had locked us in the hall way.

And so we tried to budge the fire door that was closest to us and it wouldn't move. And so we made our way to the end of the hall. And the whole time, you know, just everything is shaking, I mean so violently that you could barely stand up. And just the dust was choking us. And, you know, at that point I was very afraid.

And we made our way to the fire door at the end of the hall. And one of my Japanese co-workers knew it was going to be tough to open. And so he just ran at it as hard as he could and hit that thing and we were able to budge it and eventually open it to get out into the foyer of the building.

And as we entered the foyer, I was shocked to see just these large granite tiles that were on the wall just were cracking and breaking and stuff was falling from the roof. And there were these two glass doors that had locked us into the building and we were trying to pry them apart and I was actually thinking about just grabbing one of the bricks that had fallen and smashing it through the window, but fortunately we were able to pry those glass doors open and escape onto the road.

And as we entered onto the road, still the earthquake was happening and I was able to look around and I saw part of the hillside behind us there that had fallen away and blocked off part of the road. I could see the large smoke stacks of the nuclear power plant just, you know, swaying back and forth.

I saw cracks open up in the ground and cracks in buildings were opening up, glass was breaking. I could hear sirens and people shouting.

You know, eventually the earthquake stopped. And at that point there had previously been an earthquake drill just a week before at the plant. And so my Japanese colleagues and I knew exactly what to do. We started taking a roll call and trying to figure out where everybody was.

At that point we noticed that our phones were not working. And so we were a little concerned at that. And so after the roll call, we decided that we needed to get to some higher ground because we knew that there was a tsunami coming. And so we sort of made our way to a safer location and eventually were able to meet up with all of our co- workers and make sure we were safe.


ALLEN: Boy. Chris Hope, on how he got out of that nuclear power plant where he was working when the earthquake occurred. My goodness.

Well, at times the spiked radiation levels around the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been higher in just one hour than what most of us would be exposed to in one year.

But as our Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells Jonathan Mann of CNN, assessing the health risks is complex.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Levels of radiation are higher than what they should be, but much, much lower than would be expected to have any impact on human health.

And I know that's surprising for some people, hard to reconcile for others, and doesn't do anything to alleviate the anxiety for most, but it is the truth.

You know, we have some data on what exactly the radiation levels are here in Tokyo, for example, we get an idea of what they are outside the evacuation zone and in other parts of the country.

What we do know is that the levels around the plant, inside the gates of the plant have, have spiked from time to time as high as 400 millisieverts per hour. Most people have no context for that number, but just to give you a little bit of an idea, Jonathan, in the work that you do, you may get four millisieverts in a year, you know, working in a television studio. This was 400 millisieverts in an hour. So 100 times more that in an hour. That was the highest radiation levels.

And even at that level for a short period of period of time, the workers continued to work in there, obviously exposing themselves to a lot more radiation. But that's a little bit of the context there versus other parts of the country, certainly other parts of the world.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you about higher levels. You mention 400, but we don't have to talk about units. Let me just ask you about someone who really encounters a high dose of radiation.

Most of us think that frankly they're cooked. They'll be killed by it. Is it a death sentence?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, it depends what the level is. It depends on the time of your exposure. The way to think about this, I think, is that you have short-term or acute effects and you have longer term effects. Longer term can be over decades. Obviously, it's not something we're going to know now. But the short-term effects, this idea that if you start --



ALLEN: We're interrupting that taped interview to take you live to Japan now where the Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano is speaking. He has been the government's point person on making announcements.

Let's listen to what he has to say.


YUKIO EDANO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translation): We are still in the midst of process of preparation. I cannot give you any definitive information. But for the third and fourth reactor, we have been able to -- we believe -- excuse me -- this is for the number three reactor, spent fuel storage stand. We have been able to capture some water inside. And at this point in time, we believe the situation has been stabilized.

Although much remains to be seen. So we will continue on with the water spraying operation for number three reactor.

And at the same time we make sure there will be continuous operation for number four reactor operation as well.

Furthermore, more fundamental solution will be sought after that is basically for restoration and this preparation has progressed, stably. By joining (INAUDIBLE) from external transmission lines. We will be able to monitor the environment at the site and we will be able to stabilize the situation there. Efforts are still underway.

With regard to water injection, our intention is to stabilize the operation. We are looking for other methods.

And considering additional equipments to be transported to the site.

Another point that I should mention here is the milk and spinach. Within Fukushima prefecture, the milk that is produced and spinach that is grown, in either (INAUDIBLE) prefecture, the samples of these food product recorded radiation level that is over the limit stipulated in food safety law.

At 5:30 yesterday evening, emergency monitoring in Fukushima prefecture detected high radiation levels in milk produced in Fukushima, higher than the limit.

This morning at 11:00, the prefectural environmental monitoring center detected high radiation levels in six samples of spinach.

Because of this, Ministry of Health, early in the morning, to Fukushima prefecture and (INAUDIBLE) prefecture instructed that investigation to be conducted where these products have been transported, asked the prefecture government to take appropriate measures.

The national government of Japan would assume that these products are affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's events; however, we would continue on with a further survey. The survey results will be analyzed fully; and if necessary, there will be limitation on transportation. We would also consider to what extent this limitation is necessary.

These products including milk and food products that detected radiation levels, suppose that these productions are consumed for about a year, it will be about one brand of CD scan. Even though you continue to consume these products for a year, a total radiation level that will be taken inside the body will be comparable to one run of CD scan.

We have set preliminary limits of radiation levels. Based upon the recommendation of International Nuclear Protection Agency. If one continuously consumed these products throughout the lifetime, this dosage level of radiation level may cause a health hazard. That is the consumption of lifetime that could possibly cause health hazards. And that will be the level we set as a limitation which surely indicate that these detected levels of radiation would not affect the health of consumers.

So I would like to ask for your calm decision. The behaviors. The detection of relatively high radiation levels in food samples instructed the task force to collect data. The data will be centralized at the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Agriculture and local task forces and relevant local governments and other private companies do have their data. This data will be collected centrally. And nuclear disaster controlled task force will analyze as necessary and interpret it and that will be used for further appropriate guidance and advice.

This is the end of my report.

(INAUDIBLE) newspaper about this milk and spinach samples. He said there will be a full survey conducted. How long will it take to come up with definitive result?

For the time being, even as we speak we are collecting data and some of the data indicates similar infection levels. Actually, we have found these detection levels recently. So our intention is to collect more data and we would like to facilitate the data collection process. It depends on the result of data that will be collected.

This exceptional cases or are we going to see similar cases? At this point in time we don't see similar relatively high radiation levels detected in samples. So for the time being, we would focus on collecting data. And this you will be able to identify the site, the production of these samples, we do not disclose the names. The Fukushima prefecture and the (INAUDIBLE) prefecture might suffer from misinformation and negative rumors. The detailed information is going to be disclosed by Ministry of Health.

From the (INAUDIBLE) newspaper, these are preliminary measurements or limitations. We did not have nuclear radiation level limitation in food.

ALLEN: All right, Japanese Spokesman Yukio Edano reporting that they have studied food in the region of the area where people were evacuated near that nuclear power plant.

They studied milk and spinach and found that the radiation levels in that food is over the limits in the food safety laws. They're also checking to see if this food has already been transported that was affected. So that is a big headline coming out of Japan right now.

Also as far as the work going on at the reactor, he did say that spent fuel rods in the third reactor have been able to capture some water there and contain the water situation. So that, he says, has been stabilized. They're still working on the fourth reactor. They're still working on power restoration so they can monitor what's going inside the power plants and they continue their water injection as well.

So those are the headlines coming from the government there on that situation in Japan.

The new information, of course, on food that looks to be contaminated somewhat with radiation that oversteps food safety laws. We'll continue to explore those developments.

There's also news out of Libya we'll get back to. Our top stories right after this.


ALLEN: All right, we just brought you a developing story out of Japan.

Now we have breaking news as well from Libya and the situation there reports that a war plane has been shot down over Benghazi, Libya. That is a rebel stronghold in the eastern part of the country.

Earlier the AFP, the French Press reported explosions and air strikes in an area southwest of Benghazi.

Also, meantime, as that happens, representatives of the U.K., Germany, the U.N. -- there is French President Sarkozy, the Arab League and the U.S. are meeting in France. French President Sarkozy, he called the summit to talk about coordinating and implementing the U.N. resolution that imposes a no-fly zone over Libya. Enforcing the no-fly zone could put some real pressure on Gadhafi's forces. For opposition fighters the sooner that happens, the better.

But again, our top story reports of a war plane shot down over Benghazi, Libya.

Let's get the latest report we have from one of our correspondents earlier from Libya.

Here is CNN's Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Explosions, gunfire, voices desperately crying God is great.

This is the battle in Misurata. In this video posted on You Tube by the freedom group, we see dramatic images and sounds of civilians coming under heavy shouting. Civilians, the newly passed resolution is supposed to protect. But the immediate ceasefire the resolution calls for has yet to materialize or be enforced.

Outside of Ajdabiya, an ambulance carrying a wounded fighter briefly stops. The situation, chaotic. A tank maneuvers into position. Gadhafi's forces have been pushing through and encircling us, 20-year-old Hassan (INAUDIBLE) said of the Libyan leader. This resolution is coming too late. Too many people have died.

(on camera): This is the same checkpoint that we were stopped at on Wednesday, told that the fighting in Ajdabiya was simply too intense. But then it was only manned by a handful of fighters.

Now we are seeing a significant build up and they have their personal assault weapons with them. There are even anti-aircraft machine guns here. And we keep hearing the explosions coming from the fighting we are told just a short distance down the road.

(voice-over): The opposition is struggling to hold its positions and there are rising fears that the delay in implementing the U.N. resolution is giving Moammar Gadhafi ample time to continue with his onslaught.

(on camera): It's been just around half an hour since we heard the news that the Libyan foreign minister announced an immediate ceasefire. That information does not appear to have trickled down here. The fighters around us, still very tense. And we continue to hear the sounds of explosions from the battleground just down the road.

(voice-over): A couple of hours later, a convoy of fighters and ambulances comes barreling down the road.

(on camera): The ambulance drivers are telling us that they were just inside. The fighting was so intense. The artillery bombardment was so intense. They weren't able to reach people who they said were dead, wounded in the streets and they have just fled out and the other gentleman in the car is saying, you know, what kind of a no-fly zone is this.

And we can hear the sound. We're hearing it again right now.

(voice-over): We also catch up with a group of fighters, fresh out of battle.

ABDUL RAHMAN, VOLUNTEER FIGHTER: I just heard the ceasefire, but there is no ceasefire. They are still attacking us.

DAMON (on camera): And would you trust anything that the Gadhafi regime says about a ceasefire?

RAHMAN: Absolutely not. He's a liar.

DAMON (voice-over): And with reports that Gadhafi's forces are closing in on Benghazi, the opposition is readying itself to fight it out. But hoping that international help comes before it's too late.

Arwa Damon, CNN, outside of Ajdabiya, Libya.


ALLEN: Three breaking news stories to tell you about.

First, Former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has died. Christopher served as America's top diplomat during President Bill Clinton's first term. Earlier in Jimmy Carter's administration he helped negotiate the release of American hostages from Iran. Warren Christopher died Friday from complications of kidney and bladder cancer. He was 85 years old.

And recapping our other two big developments, first, out of Japan, as they continue to try to stabilize the nuclear reactor; the other big headline from there is that they have tested some food -- milk and spinach in the area of the reactor and they have found radiation levels that are over the limit in food safety laws there in Japan after testing milk and spinach. So there will be more exploration there.

Our other breaking news, just learning out of Libya, there are reports a war plane has been shot down over Benghazi, Libya. Earlier the French press reported explosions and airstrikes in an area southwest of Benghazi that is controlled by rebels. But again, a war plane has been shot down. We'll continue to explore these stories.

More news soon.

I'm Natalie Allen, at CNN CENTER.