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'Extremely High' Radiation Levels Detected; NYT Journalists Missing In Libya

Aired March 16, 2011 - 18:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have received a new iReport showing the power of the initial 9.0 earthquake last Friday. This was shot on the seventh floor of a department store in Tokyo.


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news.

A very grim new assessment of Japan's crisis by the top U.S. nuclear official. He says it's likely that spent fuel of a damaged facility in Japan is now uncovered, leading to very high radiation levels. With uncertainty and fierce spreading, there's now a mass exodus from one of the world's most populated cities. We'll take you to Tokyo's airports.

And for the very latest updates on the ground, we'll go live to CNN's Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Wolf Blitzer is in the air flying now from Cairo to Tunisia. He will join us as soon as he lands from Tunis.

Isha Sesay from CNN International joins me for this hour of special hour coverage. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

America's top nuclear official is warning of extremely high radiation at the damaged Japanese nuclear plant, saying spent fuel may have become exposed. A white cloud of smoke or steam rose over the plant today, forcing a brief evacuation of workers and the scrubbing of a helicopter mission to drop water over one of the reactor. The white house called it a deteriorating situation. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this on Capitol Hill today.


GREGORY JACZKO, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel and the fuel pool. We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed. And there's no water in the spent fuel pool. And we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.


YELLIN: And the U.S. embassy is advising Americans within 50 kilometers of the stricken plant to evacuate or take shelter. Wolf Blitzer is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked her about the crisis.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Is the United States urging its citizens to get out of Japan as some other countries are beginning to do like France, and maybe, even Germany?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, first, Wolf, the safety of American citizens is always our highest priority, and we are literally monitoring this minute-by-minute. We have Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy experts on the ground in Japan working with the Japanese, and we are doing everything we can to help them try to get this triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, nuclear reactors under control. So, if there is a necessity in our view to encourage that, we will do so.


SESAY: And as you've been hearing, Japanese workers are struggling to find ways to cool those overheated reactors. Grim words coming from a top U.S. nuclear official who's now saying that a spent fuel pool has apparently run dry resulting in, quote, "extremely high" radiation levels. You've heard the comment. Let's get the latest on the crisis now from CNN's Tom Foreman. Tom, break this down further for us.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Isha. Let's look at the pictures here just to give us an idea. Here's the plant, numbers one, two, three, and four. This is the way they were before all of this started. I want you to take a look at what they look like now, though. As we slide this across, you can see the tremendous amount of damage being done to every one of these units.

This is why the U.S. is now putting the exclusions on for Americans at 50 miles instead of the roughly 18 miles that the Japanese are calling, because they're saying the real dangerous levels here, reactor number one over here. We know there was a hydrogen explosion on Saturday. We know that reactor number over here. They had an explosion on Monday. The containment vessel believes to be cracked with some fuel rods exposed.

Reactor number three, which is the only one that contains plutonium, which in of itself presents a whole different level of danger here. Hydrogen explosion there suspected damage to the containment vessel, failure to cool the rods there, evaporation of the pool water, all sorts of issues and then number four. This is the one we've been talking about so much and with very good reason. Number four over here is where we've had the issue of the pool that contains the spent rods.

The spent rods in this case are the ones that would actually be involved. I think it's one that light up right now. We'll explain this to you. Up near the top of this unit, they take the old fuel rods, and they put them into essentially a storage area that's full of water. When that U.S. official was speaking a minute ago, what he was saying is that they believe the water has now drained out of there.

If it has, in fact, drained out of there, what you're talking about is a level of radiation coming off those roads that can make within 50 to 100 yards in all directions, depending on what shielding might be between you and the source, fatal doses of this coming out. Dose is so high it will cause hair loss, the beginnings of organ failure, and certainly, raise the possibility of leukemia and lymphoma as life goes on.

This is an unbelievably dangerous situation, and what the U.S. officials are saying is if that's happening here with the spent fuel rods, which are in an uncontained area, with simply just a metal roof on it, and if it's happening to the other ones, which they also fear that what you might be doing is creating such a hazardous area in here, the workers can't even get in there to try to get more water in without essentially accepting that they're taking a fatal mission.

We understand now that -- when they talk about canceling the helicopters earlier on, part of the concern there is that there's so much radiation going up. You can't even fly over in a helicopter without endangering people's lives. So, there's talk now the police may be using water cannons to try to fire from a distance and put water onto this, but I must say, Jessica, when they say a deteriorating situation, that's what we're talking about.

Here's the scale, the international scale of nuclear events, and this is where many people believe we are right now. At number six here. We're up here very close to where Chernobyl was, a major accident. I know this. There's almost no doubt at this point, no matter what else happens, we'll be talking about Fukushima well into the future in the same breath as Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl. The question is just how far will it go -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thank you, Tom.

To stay on this topic, the U.S. is keeping its military personnel 50 miles now from the damaged reactors and wants American citizens to do the same. Now, keep in mind, that is a much greater radius than the Japanese government has suggested for its own people. So, to dig deeper into how great the radiation danger is now and potentially in the future, let's bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is now on the line with us from Tokyo.

Sanjay, you've been doing some amazing reporting. If you could tell us, first of all, the U.S. State Department has expanded its evacuation zone. Why do they think the Tokyo or the Japanese government isn't strong enough? And what are the dangers those residents are facing who are closer in?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, you're seeing some of the inconsistencies in trying to figure out exactly what the nature of this radiation is and trying to correlate that with just how at risk people in the surrounding areas are. You know, we've been saying almost through the start, Jessica, there's been sort of an arbitrary nature to these evacuation zones. I think this is a little bit more evidence of it. To be fair, there's not a lot of data on this sort of thing. This isn't something you go out and just study because you wouldn't ever willingly or knowingly expose people to this type of ionizing radiation.

So, some of these are just going to be theoretical in terms of how they expand these evacuation zone. It's also based in part on weather conditions. We've been talking a lot about that, how the winds might change. We hear in Tokyo, for example, which is some distant south to Fukushima that radiation levels are 20 times what they normally are. To just hear that, it sounds frightening

But, you know, to put them in context (ph) and say, you know, that's still well below the levels that which human health effects are expected to happen. That gives it a little bit more context. So, you know, it's just a lot of changing information. A lot of it is theoretical information, and some of it is conflicting information, and that's some of the challenges that everyone is having.

YELLIN: Sanjay, some of the most surprising news the top in this afternoon here in the states is the top U.S. nuclear official has said that the radiation levels at one of the reactors at the most damaged plant is so high that it could, quote, "impact" the ability to take corrective measures. Translation, it sounds like it's too dangerous possibly for the people, the workers, who are in that plant to continue being at that reactor. Could you describe what they would go through if they were to stay in that environment?

GUPTA: Well, it's really heartbreaking to think about. I mean, you know, first of all, if you just imagine the situation, it's likely dark, all this explosion to put out whatever electrical supply they may have in terms of their own lighting, sort of moving around with flashlights. They have hazmat suits, probably, or some sort of protective shielding suit, but at radiation levels that high, I think most people agree that those suits aren't going to provide adequate protection.

They're probably breathing through tanks, respirator tanks. And you know, just trying to, you know, continue to cool these reactors, but in terms of their own personal health, that they start to develop what is known as acute radiation sickness. You think about the impact in the short term, the acute term and also the long term. Everyone is focused on what's happening right now, the acute term. People, you know, they become nauseated. They start vomiting.

They might have bleeding from their intestines. I mean, it's so difficult to talk about, Jessica, but the way to think about it is that any cells in your body that sort of rapidly divide the cells in your gut, the cells in your skin, the cells that are on your scalp to make your hair, all of those are going to be affected first. And so, a lot of the symptoms that are associated with those parts of the body will, you know, most immediately have some sort of symptoms.

And after that, there are obviously concerns about the impact on bone marrow, the impact on a thyroid gland, cancers later on down the road if someone were to survive the acute part of this.

SESAY: Sanjay, it's Isha here in Atlanta. Let me ask you about the development today where it was confirmed that traces of radioactive cesium and iodine were found in the water in the Fukushima prefecture and the significance of that. They are saying that it isn't harmful to health. Your thoughts?

GUPTA: They take a small sample, and then, they basically extrapolate that small sample to what they think it would be for, you know, the water supply as a hole. We are the same thing, you know, that they measured this in a particular unit radiation, and it was, again, much higher than normal but lower than the levels that would cause impact on human health.

They subsequently tested it, as you may have heard, Isha, and they found that the levels had come back down to essentially zero is what we're hearing. So, even within the short time, two samples showing different results. I think they're going to continue to be monitoring this. I don't think there's anything in particular that people are being asked to do about those radiation levels because they're not harmful to human health, but there's two concerns here.

One is, might they continue to go up? And two is exactly why did they go up? Because if the containment vessels have been breached, then that would be, you know, that would be evidence of that, but, somehow, this radiation is seeping into the ground water now and causing some sort of problems. I will say this. They did confirm that the radiation levels on that high reading were because of Fukushima.

I don't know if they did that because they had some sort of tracer or what, but the radiation levels from Fukushima did cause that spike in the radiation of the water levels.

SESAY: Sanjay, standby for us. You make a very important point about seepage and how it got in the water. Standby first because I want to bring in Jim Walsh. He's an expert on international security at MIT. Jim is being with us helping us to understand the situation. Jim, let me ask you this. You heard what Sanjay said about the seepage of radioactive elements potentially into the water and how that may or may not have happened.

My question is which is more worrisome to you, the situation regarding the reactors, one two and three that they're struggling to cool down or the situation regarding those cooling ponds? Which poses the biggest threat immediately?

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, right now, I think you'd have to say it's the spent fuel ponds where they're keeping the nuclear waste. If the head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission is coming out and saying that that spent fuel pond is dry and generating high levels of radiation, so high that workers may not be able to go in and manage the problems of the other nearby reactors and that the U.S. is deviating from its close and long-time ally Japan, and is telling Americans to move 50 miles away or 50 kilometers away rather than 30, that is big news. I mean, that is -- you know, that's the head of the U.S. nuclear -- that's the top U.S. nuclear official saying that things are worse than Japan has been saying, and that Americans need to do something differently. That's going to put tremendous pressure on the Japanese government, and it points to the fact that this spent fuel problem, to get to your question, is really the overarching issue right now that it is dry, allegedly dry, and therefore, generating a tremendous amount of radiation.

I will add, by the way, on the same topic, that the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, reported today that Japan told them that at reactor three, which had previously just been a reactor problem, that now reactor three is having spent fuel issues as well. So, I would say, between the two, neither are good, but I'm a little more worried about the spent fuel ponds right now than I was 24 hours ago.

YELLIN: Jim, if you could answer quickly, this is Jessica. The top U.S. nuclear official is saying that the radiation levels are, perhaps, too high to take corrective measures. What do you fear could happen next given that information?

WALSH: Well, Jessica, you know, we saw sort of a little bit of this last night when I was talking to Anderson when he said that all the workers had been pulled back, and that was sort of a stunner at the time. You know, I don't think they're going to be pulled back forever. It seemed that that was inconceivable, and they were returned.

But if the radiation gets so high and extends to a level that encompasses the other reactor areas, and the Japanese government is reluctant to send people in on what might be a suicide mission, depending on how high that radiation is, then that means there are no workers. There are no workers at the other reactors trying to manage reactor number one, reactor number two, reactor number three. All of whom have to have seawater to stay cool. So, that would have significant implications.

SESAY: Jim Walsh, standby. Sanjay Gupta is joining us on the line from Japan, stay with us also. We're going to carry on this very important conversation for our viewers when THE SITUATION ROOM return. Stay with us.


SESAY: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, roll (ph) in coverage all the situation in Japan continues. Let's show you some pictures coming into us. More of the devastated quake zone as the damage caused by the resulting tsunami. Once again, we're going to show you this --the impact. These are pictures coming to us from the evacuation zone near those reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Let's bring in our Sanjay Gupta who's actually on the line. He is there in Japan. Sanjay, before the break, we were talking about the fact that they had found traces on radioactive elements in the water and when they went back and tested it, it was much lower. But surely, that raises a question of these elements getting into the food chain.

GUPTA: Yes, it does. I mean, you know, the first question in a situation like this is exactly, you know, how is that the radiation getting from the plant into the water in this particular case, and you know, I think Jim also talking about this little bit -- the idea that, you know, does this indicate that there's been some sort of breach in allowing radiation to seep into the ground water? I don't know. I don't think people can say that for sure yet.

Again, that second result came back as normal. It's hard to piece that all together right now. There's just not enough information. I think testing is going to continue. But you're absolutely right. So, by those, say, mechanisms, could this also be getting into ground water that is used to irrigate crops? Could it be getting directly into the food supply? Could it be getting into the food supply and subsequently into the grain supply that's used to feed animals?

So, there's a whole chain of events which need to be analyzed. But again, that first source is radiation somehow getting out through some sort of breach beside just going into -- from this hydrogen explosion that we've been talking so much about. That's a question that needs to be answered.

YELLIN: Sanjay, Isha joining us, also again, in the conversation is Jim Walsh, our international security expert. And Jim, I want to ask you. It seems like there has just been a cascading series of horrors about this one plant in particular every time we check in and get more news developments it seems worse. The first bit of potential good news, I'm hearing, is this news that the power company there believes they might be able to connect a power line to the nuclear power plant and do what?

WALSH: Well, the idea of being able to get power means being able to run, if you get everything else to work, both running pumps that will get water into reactors that need cooling water so that they do not get too hot, and also, if you get a line of electricity and being able to run pumps at reactor number four and reactor number five and six if they're having problems with cooling the nuclear waste pond.

So, you need electricity. You know, right now, they're doing it manually. They're just pouring water in and then it burns off, and they have to pour more water in and pour more water in. The way it's supposed to work is that you have an electrical source that then provides electricity that pumps, that pumps the fresh water and circulates that cool water. That's, by far, the preferred outcome. Not trying to manually dump water in every, you know, periodically, over and over again.

So, the first step to doing that is being able to have electricity, but it's only the first step. Then, they have to put the rest of the pieces together to make it work.

SESAY: Sanjay, Isha here again. Let me ask you about your personal radiation meter. I know that you're keeping a very close eye on radiation levels around you. What is it showing now?

GUPTA: Well, it's sort of interesting. I woke up this morning, and you know, we've been wearing this over the last 36 hours now. And, I guess, somewhat interestingly, although it's important to contextualize this, my level has quadrupled over that period of time. Now, that is not normal, according to some of the folks that I've talked to and tried to really make sense of these numbers.

I'll give you the numbers for people who are paying attention, but it's 0.004 millisieverts. Now, that's not very much in the context of what people have been talking about, but it's more than normal. And so, quadrupling in the 36-hour period, obviously, is going to always, you know, raise some concerns, but again, I just want to say, be very careful here, because that's well below any kind of impact, any kind of level that would cause an impact on human health, but there's no question, I think, that's been confirmed now that the radiation levels in Tokyo, for example, they were saying up to 20 times normal yesterday.

So, you know, the radiation levels are higher. So, the dosimeters are going to register that.

YELLIN: All right. Sanjay, thank you so much. Please stay safe. Jim Walsh, thank you again for joining us. We continue to follow the astonishing developments in this story. It looks like we might have some news coming in on it.

And also, on the other side of this break, Anderson Cooper joins us live from Japan. Stay with us.


YELLIN: More indications that Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, is strengthening his grip on power. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, a lot happening in the world.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jessica.

We have new video, in fact, from Libyan state television allegedly showing Gadhafi greeting supporters in the city of Misurata. Witnesses say Gadhafi's forces are bombing their way into the city adding, quote, "he doesn't care if all the people are dead by the end of the day." There is also heavy fighting in Ajdabiya, the last rebel stronghold before their base in Benghazi.

"The New York Times" says four of its journalists are missing in Libya, bureau chief, Anthony Shadid, reporter, Stephen Farrell, and photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario haven't been seen from since yesterday morning. The Libyan government forces tell CNN they have no information about them. In an e-mail to CNN's Ivan Watson on Monday, Addario called the Libyan fighting one of the most dangerous stories she has ever covered.

And a CIA contractor jailed in Pakistan since January is now free. Raymond Davis was charged with murder for the shooting deaths of two Pakistani men. He claims it was self defense. A lawyer close to the case says Davis was released after paying $1.4 million to the victim's families. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the money did not come from the U.S. government -- Isha.

SESAY: Lisa, thanks very much.

Well, nuclear fears are starting to weigh heavily on survivors of Japan's catastrophic quake and tsunami. We'll go live to CNN's Anderson Cooper in Tokyo.

And Hillary Clinton speaks to our own Wolf Blitzer about the nuclear crisis and efforts to keep Americans safe. Stay in THE SITUATION ROOM.


YELLIN: While Japanese authorities have been cautious when discussing the nuclear crisis, U.S. officials are voicing increasing concern, and fears of very high radiation are leading the U.S. government to urge Americans to stay far from the damaged plant. Concern is also spreading in Tokyo, where there's been an exodus from the city.

Let's go live to CNN's Anderson Cooper who joins us from Tokyo. And Anderson, today the top U.S. nuclear official broke with Japanese officials on major analysis of aspects of their nuclear crisis. There in Japan, is there a sense the government is being fully transparent with the people?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely not. I mean, I think there's real concerns here among many people that the Japanese government is basically taking all their cues and getting all their information from this Japanese company, which runs this plant.

You know, you think back to the oil spill of the United States, and there was concerns that BP had too much of a role in cleaning up the spill or in calling the shots. And the U.S. government said, "No, we're the ones calling the shots." No one is saying that here. This private company is controlling the flow of information out of this plant.

So all the information about what's actually happening in this plant is coming from this public company, which has a record of misleading the public and not being transparent.

The Japanese government in their public statements, I've got to tell you, I listened to an interview given by the spokesman for the Japanese prime minister on CNN about ten hours ago. And it was stunning. Just -- I mean, he said a lot of stuff, but he didn't really say anything at all. I mean, all the statements were sort of feel-good statements that actually had no detail, no real level of detail in terms of radiation levels and no real -- real understanding of what is going on in that plant.

Now, it may be very well that the Japanese government simply does not have that level of detail, because they're not getting it from a private company. So I think people in Tokyo in particular were very interested to hear from U.S. officials who were saying, talking about the seriousness of this.

You had the energy secretary, Steven Chu, saying in a statement which got a lot of attention here, saying we really don't know what's going on in that plant. So the U.S. government doesn't really know what's going on in that plant. Clearly they're getting their information from the Japanese government.

So there's a lot of concern that this thing -- that the government here certainly doesn't really seem to have their hands around it or that no one really seems to have their hands around it, exactly. And no one really seems to be taking a leadership role and being in control of it.

Now the Japanese government will say, "Well, look, we've set up a very unique situation. We've set up a committee with an integrated task force with the Japanese government and this private company, but that was just done yesterday. You kind of wonder, why wasn't that done sooner? And how effective will that really be? There's a lot of questions that, frankly, there are no answers to. And is very upsetting for people all throughout Japan.

SESAY: Anderson, it's Isha here. To your point about the sense of the electrical company, the Tokyo Electric Power Company can't get their hands around this problem, is this whole issue, and you were on air when it broke, that they had withdrawn the 50 workers from the power plant, at least from one of the reactor units last night on Wednesday. Again, raising the question as to how they can deal with the situation. It was 50 workers. Now we're hearing it's 180. Many asking is that enough people to tackle such a mammoth problem?

COOPER: Well, clearly, you know, it's the working conditions have got to be, just, you know -- I mean, it's a threat to everyone's life who's working there. So they're trying to limit exposure as much as possible. They've now raised the number, as you've said. They've reportedly raised the number. Again, we can't independently confirm any of this stuff. This is all coming from this private company.

They say they've raised the number to 180 people. They're rotating them through. Look, those people are sacrificing their health and very possibly their lives to do this work. But, you know, again, it's not clear that that's enough people. It's not clear that the situation is in any way under control. I mean, it certainly seems like it's not under control, because we've had so many conflicting statements now over the last several days.

You know, even just look at this evacuation zone or kind of exclusion zone. The government has put a 20-kilometer radius around evacuating people from that 20 kilometers, they said, for another 10 kilometers. So for 30 kilometers if you're in the area, you should stay indoors, not go outside, turn off any air-conditions.

U.S. government -- U.S. is not allowing U.S. military personnel within 50 miles of that plant and advising people not to be -- U.S. citizens not to be within 50 miles, as well. So, you know, right there are completely contradictory things. I would err on the side of what the U.S. government is saying. Certainly, if I was an individual living anywhere near there.

But again, it's a great concern. Just a lack of real information. I mean, if a press conference was given in the United States like it was given here by the Japanese government officials, there would -- I mean, no one would stand for it. The level of -- the lack of detail and the kind of double speak is -- is extraordinary. And perhaps it's out of a concern to not get people upset and to have people remain calm.

But I can tell you the -- kind of the double speak and the not answering questions actually makes it worse, because now you have a huge credibility gap of the people here not believing what they are hearing from the Japanese government. And once -- once you lose that credibility, it's very, very difficult to get it back.

YELLIN: One problem compounding another. Anderson Cooper, thank you so much for your amazing reporting on this unbelievably fast- moving, tragic tragedy.

And coming up, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking extensively to Wolf Blitzer about the unfolding crisis in Japan. What is she hearing from Japanese officials? And are they telling everything?


YELLIN: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. And joining us now also with Isha Sesay, Wolf Blitzer has been traveling with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, from Cairo and has just landed in Tunis.

Wolf, you made it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this is Tunisia where it all started three months ago, all the regional unrest. The secretary of state has got a lot of meetings scheduled for tomorrow in Tunis. She wants to reaffirm strong U.S. support for what's going on, at least in Tunisia. Not necessarily in Libya and some other places.

But we had a chance when I spoke with her in Cairo earlier in the day to speak extensively about what's going on in Japan. Let me play a clip for our viewers in United States and around the world.


BLITZER: You know there are a lot of American diplomats and dependents...


BLITZER: ... military personnel, tourists.

CLINTON: Right. BLITZER: I guess the question is, is it time for folks to start leaving Japan?

CLINTON: Well, we are monitoring that. And we are listening to the experts, because we want to make an informed decision if a decision becomes necessary.

BLITZER: So as of now, it's -- you're not telling people to leave?

CLINTON: As of this minute. But again, we are in close touch with our embassy. I spoke with the ambassador yesterday. He's in constant touch with the State Department and the White House. We will make a decision if we believe that it is in the best interests of the health and safety of American citizens.

BLITZER: How worried are you about the potential for radiation and for poisoning, in effect, to affect a lot of people?

CLINTON: Well, Wolf, I'm very worried. This is a catastrophe. We know that prior two events at Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl had consequences. But what we're seeing unfold in Japan is on a much greater scale.

BLITZER: Greater than Three-Mile Island?

CLINTON: Well, I think what we know now is it has the potential to be. And we know that -- know the Japanese government, the U.S. Navy and others are testing for radiation exposure. There is a level of even increased radiation exposure that is not considered detrimental to human health and safety. Above that, obviously, we have to start to worry.

BLITZER: Are you confident that we're getting the full story from the government of Japan?

CLINTON: I believe, based on the feedback I'm getting from our experts, because I'm not a nuclear expert. I don't pretend to be. There was a lot of confusion, as there would be in any disaster. If you're hit first with an earthquake and then you're hit with a tsunami, and then you're trying to figure out what's happening to your nuclear reactors, it takes some time to get a handle on that.

I think now our experts are probing deeply to get every piece of information they possibly can so that we can make our own judgments. As I said earlier, we will make the judgment as to whether to advise Americans to move or to leave based on our analysis. And of course, that's what we owe the American people.

BLITZER: I know you're not an expert on this whole issue of nuclear energy, but you're a former United States senator. You know something about it. Is it time for the U.S. to reconsider nuclear power?

CLINTON: Well, I think we're going to have to ask a lot of hard questions after what we've seen happen, because all of the planning could not have foreseen what we have been witnessing.

And obviously, citizens who live near nuclear plants, that was an issue that I was concerned about when I was a senator from New York. I lived near a nuclear plant in New York. Citizens near nuclear plants that are on or near earthquake faults, everybody is going to have a lot more questions than they had before. And they deserve very thorough, science-based answers.

BLITZER: You met with the Japanese foreign minister.


BLITZER: Is there anything he asked of the United States that the U.S. can't deliver on?

CLINTON: No. He has been very forthcoming in thanking us for the assistance we and other nations have provided. The government of Japan has been very grateful, publicly and privately, for our civilian and military help.

But the extent of what they are dealing with is unlike anything that any of us have had to confront. So there is a lot of effort being put into planning and trying to try new things. Flood them with sea water. Try to put the fires out. So I think that our experts are literally in there with the Japanese experts, searching for solutions to what is this very fast-moving, dynamic situation.

BLITZER: Gee, I want to move on. But what worries me is that they're ad libbing right now. This is all uncharted territory.

CLINTON: Well, Wolf, it is uncharted. I mean, there's no -- no book you could take off the shelf and say, "OK, if a 9.0 earthquake hits and then a massive tsunami floods the entire region where you are, what do you do? This is the kind of contingency planning that I think most people did not believe was necessary.

Well, we're going to have to rethink that. If you look at the earthquake activity over the last ten years, if you look at other weather problems that seem to have intensified over the last 10 years, everybody is going to have to go back to the drawing boards.

And it's not only about nuclear power. It's about infrastructure. It's about coal-fired plants, oil-fired plants. I mean, we're going to have to look very carefully at all of our preexisting assumptions.


BLITZER: We're going to have more of the interview with the secretary of state coming up this, but on Capitol Hill in Washington, there's a briefing underway right now. Let's listen in briefly, because there's new information coming in on what's happening in Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... this additional evacuation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the discrepancy between what the Japanese government is saying and what the NRC is saying today?

GREGORY JACZKO, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: The information I have is coming from staff people that we have in Tokyo who are interfacing with counterparts in the nuclear industry in Japan. And I've confirmed with them they believe the information they have is reliable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that information, in your mind, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

JACZKO: We believe that there is no water in the spent fuel pool known as No. 4. I would say that it is my great hope that the information that we have is not accurate. I would hope, for the sake of everyone, that the situation is not at the state that we think it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it is accurate?

JACZKO: Well, again there are efforts that are ongoing to continue to address the situation. And as I said, the actions that we would take in the United States would be precautionary measures to ensure that the population, in the event that this were to proceed to a more severe event, that people would be evacuated and not be exposed to harmful levels of radiation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the fuel pool is dry, is it inevitable that there be ignition of the spent fuel? Or is there a scenario where that might not happen?

JACZKO: Well, again, there's a lot of detailed factors that -- that go into what would happen with the dry spent fuel pool. It depends on the age of the fuel, the material that's in there. At this point we don't have that specific information, so I don't want to speculate on what would happen from here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ignition is obviously one of the possible...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. My question was, is ignition of the fuel one of the things that you're concerned about?

JACZKO: That certainly is an area that we're looking at. And again, it's one of the possibilities that led us to -- to determine that again in the United States. We would make a recommendation to evacuate to a larger area.


JACZKO: I'm sorry. One question at a time.


JACZKO: We're looking at a variety of different issues, including the reactors themselves. But I don't really want to speculate on where this could go at this point. We just, as I said, made a determination that we think here in the United States we would take this prudent measure to issue evacuations to a larger area.


JACZKO: I'm not personally familiar with the composition of the fuel rods in that particular spent fuel or the spent fuel pools in question.


SESAY: All right. And you were just listening to the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Greg Jaczko, who was just laying out once again that the U.S.'s belief is that there are no -- there is no water covering spent fuel rods in one of those -- in one of those reactor units. He didn't specify which one he was talking about at that point in time.

But the belief is that, at least according to the United States, that the situation is extremely dire.

Let's bring in our Jim Walsh, from MIT, who's been helping us understand this.

Jim, you heard Greg Jaczko just lay it out right there that the situation is extreme dire, which led to this call for Americans to evacuate to a 50-mile radius.

JIM WALSH, MIT: Well, after he made the statements earlier today, while you've been on air, I went to the NRC Web site. And I looked at the press releases for the last three days. Twenty-four hours ago the NRC said they totally supported Japanese actions and would do the same thing.

And soon after that a U.S. team arrived on the ground in Japan this morning. As of this afternoon, they've completely reversed that position. It's a complete turnabout. Clearly, American officials arrived this morning, went to the plant, saw that things were not what they expected them to be, and then you've seen this dramatic announcement tonight.

SESAY: Jim, let me ask you. As he talks about these spent fuel rods being uncovered, do we know which ones he's talking about? Because obviously, we're talking about units four, five and six, of course. Do we know where the danger lies, as he spelt that out?

WALSH: Yes. I think he's talk -- he's referring to -- I assume he's referring to unit four. Five and six, we haven't heard much about from -- any more from the IAEA recently after they initially expressed concern, what was it, two days ago. I'm losing track now.

What the IAEA did say today, though, that was different was that the Japanese told them they were concerned about the waste pool at reactor three. That means there's one reactor, reactor three, where they both have a reactor problem and a possible spent fuel problem all in the same reactor. That's the first development of that kind so far.

SESAY: This is an extremely worrisome situation. It is a fast developing story. Jim Walsh, stand by for us.

Wolf, we're going to continue to follow this story, obviously. And the United States laying it out very, very clearly this evening, that this situation is extremely dire, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and based on all the conversations I've had with the secretary of state and other U.S. officials, they -- they are working right now to make sure that Americans in Japan, whether they're near this disaster zone or not so near, they want to try to protect them, not only the diplomatic personnel and their families but also American tourists, other American business people who may be there, as well as the thousands, tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel. There's a lot at stake, obviously, right now.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. .


BLITZER: And joining us now is Gregory Jaczko of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mr. Jaczko, how dangerous is the radiation right now? Folks in this vicinity of this reactor, are they in danger of dying?

JACZKO: Well, the -- our understanding is that there are very high radiation levels near -- near some parts of the reactor site. I don't want to go too much into the details, but they are very -- very high levels.

BLITZER: So people who are -- how close to the reactor -- how far away could people be safe, in other words? And everybody should evacuate from what radius of the reactor?

JACZKO: Well, Wolf, we took a look at the situation and the available data we had, and we compared that to a situation in the United States, and based on the information we had, we thought it was prudent to have people within about a 50-mile radius evacuate, so we thought that that was a prudent decision for U.S. citizens in the area of the reactors.

BLITZER: Is there a discrepancy between what the Japanese authorities are saying and what you're saying?

JACZKO: Well, I've been talking to a team of experts that we have in Japan right now, actually in Tokyo, and they are gathering their information by talking to the utility in Japan, as well as some other officials there. So they've shared with me some information that they thought was relevant, and it affects one of the spent fuel pools. And based on that information and the situation around the reactors, as I said, given a similar situation in the United States, we would be looking at an evacuation to about 50 miles.

BLITZER: How likely is it that the fuel there could ignite? JACZKO: Well, I don't really want to speculate at this point on those kinds of specifics. I do know there are efforts under way to try and address the condition of both the reactors, as well as the spent fuel pool.

BLITZER: Should Americans in Japan, whether in Tokyo or elsewhere, start thinking about leaving?

JACZKO: Right now the recommendation that we have is based on a comparable situation in the United States, and what we think right now is prudent is that people within about a 50-mile radius should evacuate further.

BLITZER: There are about 35 nuclear plants with a similar design in the United States. Do you believe that there's a plan of action in case there was a similar crisis in the United States to deal with this kind of contingency?

JACZKO: Well, Wolf, we -- think we have a very robust program here in the United States to deal with seismic events and tsunamis and other types of natural hazards, so in the event of a severe kind of incident like this, we also require all of our nuclear power plants to have equipment on site that's already ready to go in the event that they got to this very, very unlikely situation where they would lose all of the ability to cool the core and lose all of the ability to have offsite power to the site.

So we think we have a good robust system here in the United States, but we're certainly going to sit down and take a look at any lessons we have out of Japan and make sure that there's nothing we can learn that would change our thinking on that.

BLITZER: Gregory Jaczko of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thanks very much. Good luck. Good luck to everyone. This is obviously a catastrophe.

We'll continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We leave you now with this exchange I had with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: If the president is re-elected, do you want to serve a second term as secretary of state?


BLITZER: Would you like to serve as secretary of defense?


BLITZER: Would you like to be vice president of the United States? CLINTON: No.

BLITZER: Would you like to be president of the United States?


BLITZER: Why not?

CLINTON: Because I have the best job I could ever have. This is a moment in history where it is almost hard to catch your breath. There are both the tragedies and disasters that we have seen from Haiti to Japan, and there are the extraordinary opportunities and challenges that we see right here in Egypt and in the rest of the region.

So I want to be part of helping to represent the United States at this critical moment in time, to do everything I can in support of the president and our government and the people of our country to stand for our values and our ideals, to stand up for our security, which has to remain first and foremost in my mind, and to advance America's interests. And there isn't anything that I could imagine doing...


BLITZER: For our international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next. For viewers in the United States, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.