HARI SREENIVASAN: Japan’s struggle to stabilize a damaged nuclear plant took a sharp turn for the worse today. Officials warned one of the reactors might have been breached.
The fears of a possible breach at the Fukushima plant arose after an incident Thursday. Two workers walking behind the security tarp and wearing blue boots suffered radiation burns and had to be hospitalized. They had waded through contaminated water that got inside their protective clothing as they tried to make repairs.
HIDEHIKO NISHIYAMA, Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (through translator): The radiation level of the water which affected the injured is 10,000 times higher than the usual level.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The problem was in unit number three, damaged in a hydrogen explosion on March 14. Officials said temperature and pressure in the reactor core remained stable. But highly radioactive water also turned up in unit one, and crews found water in two other reactor units as well.
The source of the water in those buildings was unclear. Faced with the new danger, workers pulled back from parts of the plant. They had been trying for days to stop the fuel rods from overheating and leaking radiation.
In a news conference, Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, called the situation grave.
NAOTO KAN, Japanese Prime Minister (through translator): The current condition of Fukushima nuclear power plant doesn’t allow any optimism yet. We will do our utmost to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The government had already ordered people living within a 12-mile radius of the plant to evacuate last week. Today, officials suggested voluntary evacuations for those within a 19-mile radius of the plant. But they insisted that staying indoors in that zone is still a safe option.
In the meantime, there had been some progress in parts of the plant. Yesterday, lighting was restored to the central control room at unit one for the first time since the earthquake and tsunami hit two weeks ago.
The death toll in the Japanese disaster passed 10,000 today, with more than 17,000 people still listed as missing. Several hundred thousand survivors remained in schools, civic buildings and other shelters.
Up to one million people have fled escalating violence in the Ivory Coast. The U.N. reported the exodus today. It said the situation was very close to a civil war. Many of those leaving are from neighboring Mali. Today alone, 1,000 people swarmed evacuation buses in Abidjan, where the trouble is worst.
Followers of President Laurent Gbagbo have been attacking foreigners in the Ivory Coast. He’s defied world demands to step down after losing his reelection bid.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said today he’s ready to step down, but only if he can leave his country in — quote — “safe hands.” After weeks of protests against his rule, Saleh made a rare public appearance before cheering supporters outside his palace in Sanaa.
ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, president of Yemen (through translator): On this great day, the Friday of forgiveness, peace, security and stability…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ALI ABDULLAH SALEH (through translator): … yes to security and stability, no to anarchy and vandalism.
HARI SREENIVASAN: On the other side of the capital city, even larger crowds rallied again, demanding Saleh’s ouster.
And, in Jordan, protesters clashed with government supporters in Amman. The violence drew in security forces, and one protester was killed. More than 100 others were injured.
Canada is headed for an election, after opposition parties toppled the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Today’s no-confidence vote triggered the country’s fourth election in seven years, to be held in early May. Harper warned an election would harm Canada’s fragile economic recovery. Opposition parties charge he has mismanaged the economy and is overly secretive.
The Roman Catholic order of the Jesuits will pay $166 million to hundreds of Native Americans and native Alaskans. The groups charged that Jesuit priests in the Pacific Northwest sexually abused them over a period of decades. The settlement announced today is one of the largest yet in the church’s long-running abuse scandal.
The city of New York today marked the 100th anniversary of the fire that galvanized the U.S. labor movement. The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911 killed 146 people. Most were young immigrant women, and many jumped to their deaths trying to escape the flames. The fire was the worst industrial accident in the city’s history. It led to key improvements in workplace and fire safety.
On Wall Street, stocks finished the week on a high note. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 50 points to close at 12,220. The Nasdaq rose six points to close at 2,743. For the week, both the Dow and Nasdaq gained more than 3 percent.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.