Radiation Levels Spike; Official Death Toll Rises - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Radiation Levels Spike; Official Death Toll Rises

Japanese authorities are telling people to remain calm but warning those near the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant to seal themselves indoors.

Officials say a fire in a storage pond for spent fuel at the plant's Unit 4 reactor released radioactivity "directly into the atmosphere." The fire was extinguished and radiation levels had dropped dramatically. But officials say the pond might still be boiling and they're asking the U.S. and Japanese military to help by having helicopters spray water on it.

Experts say the radiation appears to have been in steam produced by the boiling water and was not emitted directly by the fuel rods, which would have been far more virulent.

One physicist based in Australia says while the situation is "not good," he doesn't think it's a "disaster." Steve Crossley says even the highest detected rates are not necessarily harmful for brief periods.

Tokyo, about 170 miles away, has reported slightly elevated radiation levels, but officials say the increase was too small to be a threat.

Meanwhile, Officials have confirmed about 3,300 deaths in the earthquake and tsunami that struck Friday. But experts in involved in the 2004 Asian tsunami say there's no question that the toll is far higher, and warn that many thousands may never be found. Officials have estimated that at least 10,000 were killed in Miyagi state alone.

Millions of people along Japan's northeast coast are coping through a fifth night with near-freezing temperatures and snow but little food, water or heating. Up to 450,000 people are in temporary shelters.

Asia's richest country hasn't seen such hardship since World War II. The stock market plunged for a second day today, with the Nikkei losing more than 10%. A spate of panic buying has stores running out of necessities.

Initial estimates put repair costs in the tens of billions of dollars. That's likely to add to Japan's massive public debt. At 200% of gross domestic product, it's the biggest among industrialized nations.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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