Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the nuclear complex, said radioactive substances were emitted after the 6:14 a.m. explosion. A grave Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the nation that radiation had already spread from the reactors and there was “still a very high risk of further radioactive material escaping.”
Radiation fears took their toll on the markets. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average plummeted 10.6 percent to 8,605.15, after declining as much as 14 percent during the day.
Four days after the earthquake and resulting tsunami destroyed much of the northeastern coastline here, the U.S. Geological Survey updated the magnitude of the quake from 8.9 to 9.0, making it the fourth largest in the world since 1900.
More than 500,000 people have been removed from the hardest-hit areas and 15,000 have been rescued. But time was running low for rescuers to help those stranded by flooding or trapped in debris. Officials said about 2,000 bodies were found Monday along the coast of battered Miyagi Prefecture, and a survey of local governments conducted by the Kyodo news agency found that about 30,000 people in the devastated areas remain unaccounted for.
With some roads impassable and fuel almost nonexistent in the north, relief and rescue workers have struggled to reach the areas where they are needed most. Survivors in shelters say they are short of food and water. With the country’s power supply depleted by the damaged nuclear plants, many shelters have no heat, and on Monday, Japan began widespread efforts to curb nationwide energy usage.
As the government urged companies and residential complexes to keep lights off or cut down on time, Tokyo on Monday felt as though it had been put on pause. Millions stayed indoors. Train lines ran on limited schedules. At the iconic crosswalk in front of Tokyo’s Shibuya Station — usually a riot of lights and noise — the massive video screens were turned off. No Japanese pop music was blaring; only footsteps could be heard.
Many of these power reductions were voluntary. But the sudden downsurge in electricity use also caused confusion, as the Tokyo Electric Power Co. made on-the-fly changes to its planned series of rolling blackouts, announced Sunday. Tepco Executive Vice President Takashi Fujimoto said that, at least Monday, lower-than-expected demand prompted the company to keep lights on in some areas — despite public announcements saying otherwise. As the plans unfolded with little correct information, chief government spokesman Yukio Edano criticized Tepco’s management, calling for a speedy release of accurate information.