Japan On 'Maximum Alert' Over Nuke Crisis - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Japan On 'Maximum Alert' Over Nuke Crisis

TOKYO - Japan's prime minister insisted Tuesday that the country was on "maximum alert" to bring its nuclear crisis under control, but the spread of radiation raised concerns about the ability of experts to stabilize the crippled reactor complex.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament that Japan was grappling with its worst problems since World War II.

"This quake, tsunami and the nuclear accident are the biggest crises for Japan" in decades, said the wan but resolute Kan, dressed in one of the blue work jackets that have become ubiquitous among bureaucrats since the tsunami.

He said the crises remained unpredictable, but added: "We will continue to handle it in a state of maximum alert."

The magnitude-9.0 offshore earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that slammed minutes later into Japan's northeast, wiping out towns and knocking out power and backup systems at the coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Police said more than 11,000 bodies have been recovered, but the final death toll is expected to exceed 18,000.

Hundreds of thousands remain homeless, their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Damage could amount to $310 billion — the most expensive natural disaster on record, the government said.

The premier was eyeing spending of 2 trillion to 3 trillion yen ($24.5-$36.7 billion) in the first of several emergency budgets to cope with the damage from the quake, Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday.

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