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The Crisis in Japan; Bahrain State of Emergency; Libyan Rebels on the Defensive

Aired March 15, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: A spike in radiation puts Japan on alert, as the country battles to avert a nuclear meltdown.

After yet another explosion, engineers are struggling to bring this nuclear plant back under control.

Among the scenes of misery in Japan, tales of survival as rescuers continue to pull people from what's left of their homes.

The disaster now expected to be the most expensive in history.

But what sort of long-term blow will it deal to Japan's economy?

Those stories and more tonight as we connect the world.

Well, it's just after 5:00 a.m. in Japan, and through the night, a desperate effort to prevent a nuclear disaster. Officials are dealing with two setbacks the at Fukushima nuclear plant.

A short while ago, Stan Grant sent this report from Tokyo.


STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Each day, almost each hour, this nuclear emergency in Japan seems to throw up new challenges. This time, the focus has been on two of the reactors, Reactor Number Two and Reactor Number Four.

Now, in Reactor Number Two, there was an explosion. And that's raised concerns about damage to the containment vessel which surrounds the core of the reactor. And that's important, because if there was ultimately a full meltdown, it is that containment process -- that containment vessel that would hold in the nasty elements, those radioactive materials that otherwise could go into the atmosphere.

Now, in Reactor Number Four, there was a fire. The Tokyo Electric Company has said that they can't rule out the prospect of a hydrogen explosion. What's also worrying is that that contained a pool and in that pool were spent fuel rods. Now, what they're concerned about is that the water may have evaporated and those spent fuel rods may have caught on fire.

Now, that also led to a spike in radiation around about the same time within the plant. It went to levels that we haven't seen before throughout this crisis, levels that the authorities said posed a risk to humans. That was contained within the plant.

In the hours since then, the levels have come down, when measured just outside the perimeter of the plant.

Now, the prime minister, Naoto Kan, is warning that we could see these radioactive particles, we could see the radiation levels rise again in the coming days.

Now, there is an exclusion zone of 20 kilometers. Two hundred thousand people have been moved away from there. The prime minister saying that people within a 30 kilometer radius need to stay inside, close the doors and the windows and stay out of any potential harmful contacts with these hazardous materials.

All the while, the fight goes on to bring this situation under control, to cool these reactors.

Now the authorities are saying they will use helicopters to fly over Reactor Number Four and try to dump water into that pool and solve the problem of these spent fuel rods.

This is a situation that really is minute by minute. It is hour by hour. And watching on, the people of Japan, who have been through so much since that earthquake really hit here and tore through the country, creating so much damage, loss of life and also this nuclear emergency.

Stan Grant, CNN, Tokyo.


ANDERSON: Well, take a look at this, which should help explain just what happened earlier at Reactor Two, as Stan mentioned. It's significant because it appears this is the first time an explosion at the plant has damaged the housing surrounding the reactor rather than the roof or outer building.

Here's what a reactor looks like, then. As we zoom in, you see the reactor vault highlighted in yellow. Now, if that vault is breached, steam containing radioactive substances can escape.

Well, with me in the studio is the nuclear expert, Rebecca Johnson.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but things have changed dramatically in the past couple of days.

What's the risk here?

REBECCA JOHNSON, FORMER WMD COMMISSION ADVISER: I think the risk is - - is escalating now. Everything the Japanese technicians are trying to do, they focus on trying to stop one problem -- you know, keeping the coolant around the reactor -- and another problem comes up.

There's been two major changes. One is this breach -- or at least a weakening of the containment in Reactor Two.

And the other is the awareness of the problem over the spent fuel, which drew -- drew our attention when it caught fire in Reactor Four.

But the fact is that the explosions in the other housings have exposed the spent fuel in those. They're not part of the actual reactor containment. They're basically out in the open now.

ANDERSON: It's frightening stuff for our viewers who will be watching this.

How long will it be before we know how bad this is, Rebecca?

JOHNSON: We don't really know how long it's going to be. You know, each -- each day, we know the Japanese and we wish them the very best to get a handle on this and -- and -- and get the coolants and stop the heating.

But the fact is that we don't know where -- they're flying by the seat of their pants. And that means that the rest of us just have to put as much support and -- and, you know, I know nuclear experts are going into there from other countries.

But we -- we won't really know whether there's going to be the possibility of getting complete containment and getting control of that plant or whether it escalates into a much, much worse incident.

ANDERSON: And what is that worst case scenario?

JOHNSON: Well, there -- there's two. There's -- there's the possibility of meltdown. And I think that's becoming very much more -- more probable, because you've got three reactors where that's a danger. Any one of those could -- could overheat and begin to melt down. I don't really know what they're planning to do in that event.

And, secondly, already with the -- the spent fuel exposed with the fire, there's leakage of radiation now. There's definitely leakage of radioactivity into the surrounding environment. It's not yet of massive proportions. It's still relatively localized. But it is causing a serious or a potentially serious health hazard to people in the area who have not been evacuated. And it could get worse.

ANDERSON: Stay with me.

I'm going to come back to you a little later this hour.

Let's take a moment to talk, then, about radiation and its possible effects.

Experts measure doses of radiation in units called sieverts. Take a look at this graphic.

Starting from the bottom, you can see that one chest x-ray is about .1 millisievert. The average dose of radiation a person typically receives a year is about 3. That's about the same amount that you get from one C.T. scan, by the way.

Now, 100 millisieverts a year would increase your risk of cancer. Radiation levels at the Fukushima have been measured as high as 400 per hour. A single dose of 1,000 millisieverts would cause radiation sickness, but not death.

Now, to put it into perspective, with bearing in mind 6,000 millisieverts is the typical dosage recorded in those Chernobyl workers who died within a month.

We're going to get more on the health risks for you now.

Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins me from CNN Center.

And we've all seen these pictures of steam being vented from the plant. We all know there's radiation in that steam -- Elizabeth.

But what kind of radiation?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The answer to that matters, Becky, because not all radiation is the same. You want to know what's in that plume.

We don't know exactly what's in it, but we do know -- we've been told what's in the plant itself. And we're told that that is cesium and uranium and iodine. So those are the three things that they're looking for.

There are some medicines that can help people if they are exposed to that and sometimes they work, you know, especially if they're given very quickly.

ANDERSON: What are the health effects of these materials?

COHEN: You know, these materials are moistly what we call gamma rays. And what those rays can do is that they can travel pretty efficiently through air for relatively long distances and can also penetrate through tissue several centimeters. So what they look for long-term is basically cancer. They're looking for, for example, kidney or bone or blood cancer with these three agents, if you put them all together, thyroid cancer. Those are the long-term risks.

The short-term risk is Acute Radiation Syndrome. And, as you mentioned, we're not -- we're not at that level, thank goodness. So you're not seeing that, you know, rampantly throughout those communities near the -- near the reactor.

ANDERSON: How dangerous is the current level of exposure, then, to the general public?

COHEN: Well, you know what, that was a terrific graphic that you had a little earlier, Becky, that talked about numbers, that right now, we're seeing, at the plant -- there it is. At the plant, look at that -- the second from the top -- they've measured levels as high as 400 millisieverts per hour. And a single dose of 1,000 would cause radiation sickness.

So as you can see, we're not quite there yet. And I want to -- I want to let us hear from my colleague, Sanjay Gupta, who is actually in Japan.

He had these observations.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: These levels, as they stand now, are not potentially problematic.

Even the highest levels that were reported, 400 millisieverts. People don't need to remember the term. But 400 millisieverts was the highest reading that was given today inside the plant.

Once that radiation starts to leave the plant, leaves the gate, starts to decay, the levels are going to be much, much lower.

So as things stand now, these levels are much higher than what they usually are, but as far as impact on human health, physical health, there's not a lot, I think, probably to be concerned about.


COHEN: Now, Becky, as you heard Sanjay say, it really -- it dissipates as it goes out. So location is crucial there. If you want to know how -- how much at risk someone is, you want to know, well, where is that person?

Are they near the plant?

Are they far away from the plant?

What direction is the wind blowing?

There's -- how long have they been at that location. All of those things really matter.

And I'll tell you that most of the concern, I think, right now, is for the workers at the plant. And, you know, they're working to cool that down.

But if that radiation gets too high, how long can they stay there and continue their work?

I mean that's a real concern.

ANDERSON: Yes, good point.

All right, Elizabeth, thank you for that.

COHEN: Thanks.

ANDERSON: Elizabeth alluding, of course, to the direction of the wind. It's a key factor when monitoring radiation dangers.

Let's bring in Jenny Harrison then from the International Weather Center -- what can you tell us, Jen, at this point?

JENNY HARRISON, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think the change in the cards in terms of weather conditions, we're noticing winds. But, also, the winds are about to change direction.

Now, these are the current observations coming out of Fukushima and also Iribaki. And in both cases, they are set to the west of the nuclear plant. Of course, that is located on the coast.

So for the last few hours, we have had the winds coming from the north, as you can see here right now, 22 kilometers an hour and 15 kilometers an hour respectively.

The winds have been quite gusty. They will be quite gusting over the next few days. But with the winds coming from the north, anything in the plant is going to be blown, obviously, southward. So still continuing to head across areas that are obviously populated.

This just shows you, again, this radius we are talking about, the whole area where the people, the residents have been evacuated to somewhere safer. Obviously, as Elizabeth was saying, you know, the further away you are at that point, anything contained within the air has had time to disperse into the atmosphere, hopefully is less dangerous or poses less of a problem.

And then between this area, the red and the yellow line, Minamisoma, this is where the residents there have been told to stay indoors and to keep their windows shut.

Now, the change in the direction of the wind is going to occur in the next few hours. The next area of low pressure is heading across Honshu. The winds are coming down from the north. They're cold. They're strong winds. And a lot of precip is in here, a lot of moisture. And so that will be turning to snow, certainly, in the high elevations.

But when it comes to the direction of the winds, this is likely to happen. This is a scenario we have put together.

This is actually a model that NOAA uses. It helps to predict, for example, the spread of volcanic ash. So we're looking literally at a box of air. I'm not talking about any radiation or any particles that are included in that.

But if you were to have this box setting off from the destination, the plant, in this case, at three different heights, 10 meters, 150 and 300 meters, this will show you where the wind would actually take that box of air going forward.

So we're taking it here as a starting point at 9:00 local time on Wednesday morning.

Now, the winds, as I say, they're going to be changing direction. And look at this. This means if the winds are coming from the northwest or the west, all of this box of air will be pushed well out into the Pacific Ocean for the next seven hours and it will continue on its journey south and eventually sort of southeastwards, but not heading toward any areas, Becky, that are populated. That is the scenario as we go forward, with the winds changing direction.

ANDERSON: Let's hope for that.

Jenny Harrison at the Weather Center for you.

Well, the nuclear threat is only one issue that the millions of Japanese are facing, of course. Search and rescue operations are ongoing in coastal areas, trying to find the thousands of people who are still missing.

Now, you're watching scenes from Ofunato, where international teams are searching for any survivors. The national police agency says that more than 3,300 people are dead and more than 6,700 still missing, a significant increase from the last update on that figure.

The death toll is expected to continue rising as new areas are reached. And frigid weather is making things more difficult, as you can imagine, for everyone.

Well, rescue teams are doing everything possible to scour the country. But there are some areas that haven't been reached.

CNN's Anderson Cooper visited one town yesterday which had not yet been visited by military personnel.

Take a look at this.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): There's still so many places that need to be searched. In Schichigahama, there's no telling what lies beneath the acres of debris. When we arrived late Monday, the military had not yet searched here.

(on camera): When you see a debris field like this, you kind of almost have to refocus your eyes. None of it makes sense. It takes a while to -- to kind of adjust to what you're actually seeing.

This is -- was the top of a house. This is the roof of the house right here that's completely crushed and collapsed. There's a car over here. There's another car over there. There's the contents of multiple houses here. There's a mattress over there. There's another house over there that's collapsed. And just almost as far as the eye can see, it's just debris.

(voice-over) Last week, this was farmland. Now, soaked in sea water, it's a sickening sight.

(on camera) This feels like it's the ground, but this isn't actually the ground. We're probably -- this is probably about 10 feet up off what the actual ground is. There's just so much debris piled on. There's actually an entire van beneath me.

(voice-over) Last week, there were some 20 homes in this area. Now there are none.

"The house you're seeing here," he says, "wasn't here before. It was swept here by the wave. The houses that were here were completely washed away."

Osumo Takada (ph) says only one of his neighbors' bodies has been found. He's not sure how many more may have died.

"There is no contact," he says. "There are no phones, no internet. The people in the neighborhood, they haven't been back. Those that died might be right over here under the water, under the wreckage."

Other than the sound of choppers, there is mostly silence. Sometimes you hear a bird or something rustling in the wind, but the silence always returns.

In the wreckage, you find all manner of things -- children's dolls, empty shoes, wedding photos covered in mud.

As we left, a squad of Japanese soldiers arrived to begin a cursory search. They go by smell, moving fast. There's just too much ground to cover, too many more neighborhoods to search.


ANDERSON: Amidst the devastation are still hopeful tales of rescue. Take a look at this. One man was pulled out alive in Ishinomaki some 96 hours after the quake. And just a few hours earlier, a 70-year-old woman was rescued and taken safely to hospital.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, has one of these tales of survival for you.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The images are tough to watch, but as I learned, the stories are even harder to hear.

You see those cars being tossed around like toys?

Well, this man, Hiaboshi, was in one of them and he lived to tell about it.

(on camera): So you were looking out your windshield...


GUPTA: -- and you saw the water coming?

(voice-over): He tried to escape, but it was too late.

"Over and over, I was hit," he said. And then his car flooded.

He was slowly drowning and so he tried to smash the window with his right hand. Finally, he got the car to open, but the water pinned the door back on his hips and his leg.

Mr. Hiaboshi (ph) doesn't know how he was saved. The next thing he remembered was pulling up in the ambulance to Saka Hospital.

(on camera): Well, as you might imagine, triage is a big deal at a place like this. Here at Saka Hospital, they basically categorize patients into four categories immediately. Green if it was a relatively minor injury, yellow if it was more serious, red if it was very serious and black if the patient had died. When Mr. Hiaboshi (ph) came in, he was considered a red.

(voice-over): Critically injured, his life was now in the hands of Dr. Takanori Sasaki.

(on camera): So it's important to point out Dr. Sasaki has been here since Friday. He never left the hospital since the earthquake occurred and has been taking care of these patients, has headed the emergency room.

(voice-over): Day after day, Saka Hospital stayed open, with the Dr. Sasaki in charge, taking care of hundreds of patients.

In Japan, near drownings and cardiac arrest are the most common serious injuries seen, followed by head and crush injuries.

(on camera): Now, Dr. Sasaki has been here since Friday. And I want to give you an idea of just how busy the busiest hospital has been. After the earthquake and the tsunami, 600 patients seen here over the last several days. Seventy-nine patients remain. Thirteen patients have died.

(voice-over): Watching Hiaboshi (ph) closely, it is clear he is haunted by what happened to him. The tsunami robbed him of just about everything. In fact, you're looking at all he has left. But then, a rare smile. And he tells me, almost in disbelief, "I am still alive."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Shigoma City (ph), Japan.


ANDERSON: And we'll have much more on Japan coming up this hour.

Straight ahead, though, we're going to see how two Arab countries are taking new steps to stop popular uprisings. Bahrain has declared martial law, giving security forces sweeping authority to restore order there. While in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi uses firepower to back up an ominous new warning.


ANDERSON: You're with CNN now.

While we focus on the devastation in Japan and growing fears of the nuclear disaster, we also don't want to lose sight of important developments in the Middle East for you.

Two governments now appear more determined than ever to crush popular uprisings.

And we'll get to Libya in a moment.

First, though, Bahrain, where the king has imposed a three month state of emergency, effectively declaring martial law. well, protesters say he's trying to force a military solution on a political problem. They're also outraged that Saudi-led troops have entered the country to help the government, calling that an act of war.

This video shows protests yesterday in Manama. But there was even more unrest today in Southern Bahrain.

Let's get more on that from journalist Mansoor Al-Jamri.

He's on the line from Manama.

Describe what you saw on the streets today.

MANSOOR AL-JAMRI, JOURNALIST: What we see today is a very different Bahrain. I mean you could have described this in a way similar to Bosnia before -- or Yugoslavia before it disintegrated into pieces.

There are suburbs that are fully separated from each other, checkpoints by dissidents afraid of some cars that come around and shoot and run away. And then there is some sort of confrontation.

The biggest confrontation has been south of -- south of the capital, in a place called Sitra, which has been under siege since the afternoon, up until an hour ago local time.

There -- there are -- there were three to four deaths during this confrontation, we understand, one policeman, one or two citizens and a Bengali who was with the woman trying to escort some women away from the confrontation and got knocked off or shut out...

ANDERSON: All right...

AL-JAMRI: -- by some people. So it's quite a very sad situation we have in Bahrain at the moment.

ANDERSON: What is the role of the Saudi troops?

AL-JAMRI: It is yet -- it is not yet very clear. We have the first statement after the declaration of -- that his majesty (ph) just released. This statement says that it's a strain (ph), because, first of all, we're not known to (INAUDIBLE). It says that the military judiciary is going to issue an -- a list of places and times where it must be -- where they must be cleared.

So we understand this is an indication that some sort of a curfew will be imposed from today or tomorrow on certain places, which will bring us to the (INAUDIBLE) round about, where thousands of people are congregating. And we're afraid that something like a -- a massacre might happen unless a political mediation really takes place.

Five of the mosque's senior Shia clerics here in Bahrain issued a statement to (INAUDIBLE) and asked him to the world -- to the international community, saying (INAUDIBLE) or else basically save our souls, that we are now under imminent danger of being annihilated using brutal force one way or the other.

And it's really, really something similar to Yugoslavia, something similar to Kosovo and their -- and the Serbians control. I mean people are so afraid and to -- to (INAUDIBLE) or to travel from one distance to another, you really have to take the risk of moving around.

Petrol is out. Shops are closed. Citrars (ph), the one that the curfew has ended just now, after. There are scenes, also, of sort of -- of a battle zone. The cars are upside down. Trailers are everywhere, bloodstains here and there. The petrol station -- it is quite a miserable, unthinkable situation. No one would ever believe that this is Bahrain, as we are seeing these days.

ANDERSON: Mansoor al-Jamri bringing you up to date on the situation in Bahrain.

Sir, we thank you for that.

In Libya, a double blow for rebels fighting to oust Moammar Gadhafi. Not only are they struggling against fresh government attacks, but the world has failed yet again to approve a no fly zone proposed.

Well, Libyan forces fired missiles and artillery at the town of Ajdabiya today, as Gadhafi told rebels their options are closing, warning them to surrender or run away. As that strategic town slips from opposition hands, some rebels fear it's just a matter of time before a bloody assault on their stronghold of Benghazi.

Arwa Damon filed this report earlier from the front lines.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The opposition forces are struggling now to keep pro-Gadhafi troops from pushing into the city of Ajdabiya. We have seen rounds landing inside the city's outer perimeter. We have seen the opposition firing back, using surface-to-air artillery. We've seen them using Katushas. We've seen an incoming barrage of mortar fire.

There are also reports of air strikes happening overnight and in the morning. We saw one aircraft overhead. It did not fire, not while we were here. Not entirely sure if it was trying to gauge the opposition's positions.

This is proving to be a much tougher battle than anyone had anticipated. This city, key territory. Should the pro-Gadhafi elements be able to push in here, the concern is that this could potentially turn into a bloodbath.

We've just seen a creeping barrage of incoming artillery fire, forcing the opposition to withdraw further into the heart of the city of Ajdabiya.

This is going to be a key and decisive battle if Gadhafi's troops continue to be able to push forward in this way.

When it is going to end, how long the opposition can hold on, at this point, is not at all clear.

All of the fighters only have one question at this point and that is, where is the no fly zone?

They're asking that of the United States. They're asking that of the United Nations.

The concern is that as these pro-Gadhafi elements gain even more ground, if Colonel Gadhafi should somehow hold onto power, he is not a man known to have mercy on those who oppose him.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Ajdabiya, Libya.


ANDERSON: Well, one doctor in Ajdabiya said today without outside military help, Gadhafi will, quote, "slaughter us all."

We're joined now by opposition figure, Essam Gheriani, from Benghazi.

He's a committee member of the 17th of February Revolution.

Sir, diplomats from the Group of Eight meeting in Paris today issuing a statement that made no mention of military intervention in Libya, nor of a no fly zone.

Your reaction?

ESSAM GHERIANI, 17TH OF FEBRUARY REVOLUTION: I believe -- I really believe that, first of all, I would like to thank you for giving our crisis such attention.

But I really do believe that they're ignoring the Libyan situation and not talking about the no fly zone is a shame on those members that are refusing or objecting to the imposition of the no fly zone.

It is a humanitarian crisis that we have here. We have a brutal thug that is killing people and demolishing cities. And I believe that the international community cannot just stand by and watch him do that.

ANDERSON: Do you feel let down by the rest of the world?

And does this feel increasingly like a no win situation for the opposition?

GHERIANI: Well, definitely. I mean we do feel disappointed, especially from the superpowers or the members of the international community that can make a difference. There is no doubt about that. We would have liked to see more than positive talk. Positive talk, after all, remains just positive talk and no action while people are really dying here in great numbers.

Our cities are being demolished. Today, he came into Ajdabiya, the Gadhafi regime forces came into Ajdabiya. They were kicked back later this evening. And there are celebrations right now in Benghazi for that.

But that doesn't mean that we can overcome this -- there is, I mean, a big, huge difference between the extensive force and the modern weaponry that he has and the basic weaponry that we have. And his air force is also playing a big role in this.

So we would like to see a stronger position from the international community to stop the annihilation and this genocide. I would rather see some action today than have the international community discuss over the next 20 years who missed the chance or who wasted the chance for the installation of a democratic government in Libya.

ANDERSON: I must mark the fact that the G-8 encouraged, today, the United Nations Security Council to take tougher action with tougher economic sanctions. But no military intervention, no mention of a no fly zone.

What's your biggest fear, at this point?

GHERIANI: My biggest fear is any action short of the no -- the no fly zone and other military intervention, requests that we had placed from the very beginning of our crisis, which is the bombardment of certain locations, strategic locations of the Gadhafi regime.

Anything less of that, I mean, is going to mean the prolongation of this crisis and more people are going to die. And there is going to be a stalemate. There is going to be a stalemate where more and more and more people are falling dead, I mean.

ANDERSON: Essam, I'm going to have to leave it there. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us this evening. The situation in Libya for you.

Well, Japan's nuclear crisis sparks fears around the world. Coming up, the view from Germany, where crowds gathered to speak out against nuclear power.

And later, we hear from the White House on the future of reactors in the United States. CONNECT THE WORLD returns after this short break. Do stay with us.


ANDERSON: Back with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson in London. Coming up, Japanese technicians are working furiously to prevent a nuclear meltdown as fears of radiation exposure ripple through the country and all the way to Europe, where nuclear reactors will be put through a series of stress tests to see if they can handle a similar disaster.

Plus, shockwaves across the stock markets. Global markets plunge as one of the biggest economies in the world reels from its triple-whammy, earthquake, tsunami and, now, nuclear crisis.

We're going to do those stories ahead for you. First, as ever at this point, let's get you a quick check of the headlines at this hour.

And fears of radiation exposure are spreading across Japan as workers rush to cool down systems at an earthquake-damaged nuclear plant. Japan's government has imposed a no-fly zone over a 30-kilometer radius surrounding the Fukushima Daichi plant. That is after radiation was detected there.

International rescue teams are trying to locate survivors after Friday's powerful earthquake and tsunami. This elderly man was pulled from the rubble Tuesday. He was buried for 96 hours. The firm death toll has spiked almost 3,400, double that figure are still missing.

Protest and clashes continue in Bahrain even after the king imposed a three-month state of emergency. Medical officials say security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets at anti-government demonstrators, killing at least two.

And forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are moving closer to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Witnesses say the city of Ajdabiya, a key transit point, is on the verge of slipping from rebel control.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Egypt's political revolution during a visit to Cairo today. Clinton also pledged $90 million in emergency economic aid from the US. Earlier today, Egypt's interior ministry announced it would dissolve the country's notorious and brutal national security force.

Well, Japanese officials are racing against time to prevent a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant as the rest of the world anxiously watches their progress. Here is why their success is crucial to all of us.

Nuclear power accounted for about 15 percent of the world's electricity in 2009. The International Atomic Energy Agency counts 442 operable nuclear power reactors in 30 countries and territories. The US has the largest number of commercial reactors with 104. France has the second highest number with 58, Japan third with 54.

Well, the fears of radioactive exposure gripping Japan also resonating across Europe, leaving many countries scrambling to access the safety of their own nuclear facilities. Thousands protested in Germany on Monday, calling on their government to shut down all nuclear power plants immediately.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since this happened, now, in Japan, I am thinking it's really, really time to stop using nuclear energy. We've seen it in Chernobyl. I'm thinking or hoping that it would teach the world was too early. Now, I'm afraid that something even more serious is going -- is just happening in Japan.


ANDERSON: German chancellor Angela Merkel has responded by ordering a safety review of all nuclear plants in the country. Seven of Germany's 17 facilities will be shut down during that review.

Meanwhile, the European Union says energy companies have agreed to develop common stress tests for nuclear plants in Europe.


GUENTHER OETTINGER, EU ENERGY COMMISSIONER (through translator): We want to look at the risks and the safety issues in light of events in Japan and carry out a reassessment. I think that the time has come for that.

And we figure the stress test on the basis of the European standard is the right instrument to proceed on -- with that.


ANDERSON: Well, that announcement came after an emergency meeting of energy ministers and nuclear regulators in Brussels earlier today, responding to Japan's nuclear crisis.

In the United States, nuclear experts say a loss of power like the one in Japan is the greatest potential risk for nuclear reactors. But even so, the US is not showing any signs of backing away from this source of power. CNN's Jim Acosta reports.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The US already has nuclear power in earthquake zones. On the California coast, the 26-year- old Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor is expected to get a new license to keep operating, even though experts just three years ago found a previously unknown earthquake fault line less than a half a mile away offshore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shoreline fault is 0.6 kilometers away.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Nearby residents grilled nuclear regulators on the plant's safety at a public hearing in January.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you be sure that there is not another earthquake fault to be found out there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There could be.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite the potential for a meltdown in Japan, the Obama administration is showing no signs of abandoning nuclear power. Right now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing applications for roughly 20 new plants across the country, most at existing reactor sites, and the White House is pushing for more than that.

DANIEL PONEMAN, DEPUTY ENERGY SECRETARY: We are going to continue to seek to diversify our energy supplies. We're going to continue to make sure that each and every one of those sources is as safe as is humanly possible.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Many Republicans in Congress would go further, backing this road map for America's energy future, which calls for 200 new nuclear power plants by 2040.

ACOSTA (on camera): Are you comfortable with that number? 200?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: If we want to compete long-term with China, this is where China is headed. This is where France already is, in terms of the base load of their electricity coming from nuclear power.

ACOSTA (voice-over): After the BP oil spill and recent coal mine disasters, President Obama has pushed nuclear power as a green alternative.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But pressed on whether US plants could withstand the kind of quake that struck Japan, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found it's hard to give a straight answer.

GREG JACZKO, CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: We have a strong safety program in place to deal with seismic events that are likely to happen at any nuclear facility in this country.

ACOSTA (on camera): No matter what the US decides, fast-growing countries like China and India are sticking to their nuclear ambitions. Their economies are simply too starved for energy to consider any other alternative. Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


ANDERSON: All right. Well, with me again in the studio is Rebecca Johnson, who is a nuclear specialist. We're going to talk about China and possibly India shortly. Some countries, though, in Europe are worried about their own reactors. The US, though, appears not to be. Who's got it right?

REBECCA JOHNSON, NUCLEAR SPECIALIST: I think the Europeans have very good reason for being concerned about the spread of nuclear technologies.

I think the US, particularly the Diablo Canyon reactor, which is on a fault line not so different from Fukushima, and with the possibility also of tsunami because there are other earthquake zones off the coast that could do what happened in Japan and cause a tsunami, it seems to me that the US needs to rethink.

They did rethink after Three Mile island and Chernobyl. They pretty well shut down their nuclear expansion program. Most of the stuff they have is old. What they should do now is really rethink whether they want to start building new ones.

ANDERSON: The rest of the world appears to me, over the last decade or two, to have done a 360 on nuclear power. France was stuck with it and, to a certain extent, was always criticized for it. But it's an energy, whilst the world looks for cleaner energy, it's one that sort of fits the bill.

What impact, though, will a nuclear crisis the likes of Japan have on the ambitious nuclear energy plans of a country like China, which also is prey to earthquakes, and has had issues with safety and transparency in the past?

JOHNSON: I think it's bound to prompt a rethink right across the world about the ways in which nuclear energy actually operates. I think there are three compelling reasons for a rethink. There is, of course, the safety. The fact that an accident such as has happened to Fukushima could happen again. And however good the technicians are, they may be racing against time again to stop it.

The second reason is proliferation. If you spread nuclear energy technologies, that's basically the technology that makes nuclear weapons. So -- and the barriers that are created between -- as safeguards from nuclear energy to nuclear weapons are just not good enough. The International Atomic Energy Agency has safeguards. Regimes, such as we see with North Korea and Iran, they're just not good enough.

And the third reason, really, is that they -- that the technicians -- and I speak as somebody who wanted nuclear energy to work back in the early 70s -- they have not solved the nuclear waste problem.

ANDERSON: The problem is this, isn't it? That we're all looking for the energy solution at the moment. We're looking at peak oil, possibly peak water, at some point. We're looking for something that isn't as dirty as fossil fuel. So, what do we do if we don't do nuclear?

JOHNSON: There's no single magic bullet. There are a diversity of approaches. One is, we actually have to reduce energy consumption. Now, we can do that in two ways. One, we can reduce the use of our fossil fuels and also our emitters.

The other, which China is doing, is you put solar panels, you make them cheap and light, you put them on every roof. And then, what you get is whole populations are greatly reducing their energy consumption.

If you added that, take a country like Japan, you'd have geothermal possibilities, you'd have wave, you'd have wind. There are a lot more wind farms in Japan already. But you need a diversity of approach. But you need to localize the approach.

The other problem with nuclear is that, when you have -- a heavy dependence on nuclear energy, you have centralized grids -- and this is also what we're seeing in Japan -- where other areas of Japan that were not affected by the earthquake or tsunami are now suffering blackouts, deliberately imposed shortages of electricity in order to cope with the fact that they have a centralized grid that has been knocked out.

ANDERSON: This is a discussion which, I can tell you, will now run and run and run. Of course, it is very unusual we see something like Fukushima. But the narrative is out there once again.

JOHNSON: Well, there's been a major accident once every ten years so far.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Rebecca, as ever, thank you.

Coming up, global markets feel the aftershocks of this disaster. Stocks plunge from Tokyo to New York, and it couldn't come at a worse time for Japan.


ANDERSON: This is the scene captured by one of our iReporters at a grocery store in Sendai in Japan on Monday, just about 20 kilometers from the tsunami zone. People waited in line for up to four hours for basic supplies. Our iReporter says everyone, though, was calm and orderly.

As concerns deepened today over the disaster in Japan, a huge sell-off made its way from East to West around the globe. Stocks on Wall Street were the latest to tumble, the Dow posting a triple-digit loss. Let's get the latest details from Maggie Lake, who is in New York. Maggie?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Becky. Very volatile day on global markets. US investors awoke to hear of a major sell-off in Tokyo, the Nikkei tumbling more than 10 percent on the day in what was described as panic.

Selling driven, of course, by concerns about the nuclear situation. That, then, spread to Europe. You can see the London FITSE down over one percent, and that was off the worst. Germany, the DAX down over three percent. Looked like the same was set to happen in the US, the Dow dropping about 300 points, nearly 300 points, right out of the gate.

But take a look at the chart that we're going to show you. Something very interesting happened. After that initial plunge, we saw the markets claw their way back as the day progressed. Calmer heads prevailed, people doing a little bit of bargain-hunting for blue chips, and we managed to end down triple digits, down about 137, but that was recovering about half of the losses.

The major indexes, S&P and NASDAQ also down more than one percent. But the NASDAQ actually back in the black for the day. So, a fairly resilient performance here. It could help calm nerves of global investors, especially as we start to begin and look toward another day of trading in Asia.

However, I will caution, not clear that this is a significant change in sentiment. There is still a lot of market jitters out there, and to point investors gold and oil, both down on the day, and treasuries up. Investors are looking for those safe havens. That trade is still very much on until we get some sort of resolution on the nuclear threat in Japan. But Becky, much better performance than we thought when we first entered trade on Tuesday.

ANDERSON: Yes. All right. Tomorrow's performance will, of course, hinge on what happens in Tokyo and -- well, its a quarter to six in the morning, we're only hours away from the opening of play there. What have been the worst-hit stocks in Japan to date?

LAKE: As you can imagine, the stocks directly related to the nuclear facility and the issue. If we take a look -- and again, ten percent on the day, if you put these two days together, biggest drop in Japanese stocks since 1987 on record volumes. So, this was unnerving for people.

Tokyo Electric Power, the owner of the crippled facility, down 24 percent. You can also see Toshiba, Fugi Electric, down 19, 17 percent. Car companies, Toyota, we know that production, the manufacturing sector, taking a big hit with the energy problems, the rolling blackouts, a lot of the plants are shuttered. Toyota and Honda on there, as well. Electric giant Sony. So, some very big blue chips names in Japan seeing losses we haven't seen.

I will say, Becky, American investors talking aloud about whether this is a buying opportunity. But again, a lot of people afraid to step in aggressively until we get a little bit more certainty.

ANDERSON: Yes, they'll get there eventually, though. Maggie, we thank you for that. Maggie Lake out of New York for you.

OK, well some economic analysts now predict that Japan's earthquake and tsunami could end up being the most expensive natural disaster in history, topping even Hurricane Katrina. And as Emily Reuben now reports, the setback comes just as Tokyo seemed close to turning the corner on tough economic times.


EMILY REUBEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the world's great economies. Until recently, Japan was the world's second largest. It's now third, with a GDP of $5.3 trillion, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Devastated by the second World War, Japan became a manufacturing powerhouse, leading the way in automobile production, electronics, creating companies that dominate the world today.

But these have been tough times. For two decades, the economy has suffered slow growth as it struggles to recover from a crash in the late 1980s.

GRANT LEWIS, DAIWA SECURITIES GROUP: The legacy of that has been pernicious, and it has been a legacy of low growth, highly indebted private sector, which took many years to get those levels of indebtedness. Now, an increasingly indebted government sector. Government debt is up towards 200 percent of GDP.

REUBEN (voice-over): Japan is still one of the world's biggest exporters, but it's poor in resources and relies on imports for 80 percent of its energy needs. Last year, the IMF had Japan's growth rate at 4.3 percent.

PETER WESTAWAY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, EUROPE NOMURA: I think the one thing that they could have, perhaps, done differently is taken a slightly more aggressive approach to combating deflation. I think one of the lessons that other central banks around the world have taken in the United States, in the UK, is the way to overcome the threat of deflation is to be very clear in your communication strategy to send a signal, "We will do whatever it takes to prevent this happening."

REUBEN (voice-over): Many economists were hoping this might be the year Japan's economic recovery would gather steam. Now, they're assessing the whole implications of Friday's devastating events. Emily Reuben, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, earlier, I spoke to Janet Hunter from the London School of Economics, and I asked her how this disaster would affect the Japanese Economy in the long term.


JANET HUNTER, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Past experience would said we -- would suggest that we can be relatively optimistic about the ability of the Japanese economy to recover and the resilience of the Japanese people in the face of this kind of disaster. Clearly, this is on a significant scale, but after the Kobe earthquake of 1995, for example, the economy recovered relatively quickly.

But I think it does depend on their sorting the nuclear issues so they can -- they can focus on other things. And I think how they act, and particularly how the government acts and how -- the extent to which it obtains the confidence of the people, that it can act appropriately over the next few weeks is absolutely critical to the recovery in the long term.

ANDERSON: How would you describe the global impact, here?

HUNTER: I think the global impact could be relatively limited. Again, I think that's contingent on what happens over the next -- the next few weeks. Clearly, there are potential implications for global financial markets.

We already know that it has had an impact in Japan, and that will have knock-on effect in terms of Japan possibly wishing to raise foreign loans to try and support the reconstruction. Possibly, in terms of the global supply chain, it could effect production elsewhere and in terms of increased Japanese demand for things like energy.

ANDERSON: It had a lost decade --


ANDERSON: In the 1990s.


ANDERSON: Does it face something similar?

HUNTER: Well, opinion seems to be divided on this that, obviously, it comes after almost two decades of relative stagnation. And it is a major blow, there's no question. But some Japanese have been saying, well, they need something to shake them out of this. And some economists are saying, well, it could, ultimately, perhaps provide a stimulus, which will help Japan recover. In terms of the long run.

ANDERSON: What does the government need to do in order to provide that sort of stimulus at this point?

HUNTER: That's very difficult to say, because I think it is -- I think in general, Japan has relatively good systems for dealing with this kind of emergency, albeit not necessarily on this scale. But what is relatively important, I think, is for the government to actually try and demonstrate leadership.

Because there's a huge problem of lack of confidence in the government, there's lack of confidence in the economy. And under these circumstances, I think the government's biggest task is to try and rebuild confidence. People know that they can, perhaps, rely upon them to actually help them recover.


ANDERSON: Janet Hunter speaking to me earlier. We are going to take a very short break here on CNN. Back after the break.


ANDERSON: The full scope of the disaster in Japan is still being revealed, of course, as people search with waning optimism for news of their loved ones. Let's listen, now, to the painful stories from some of these disasters' brave survivors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife is physically handicapped. We wanted to run away to the back. The volume of water was so high, the car wouldn't move. My daughter and I tried our hardest to push her up to this hill.

The water level went up so high so quickly.

She was so heavy, I let go of her hand. I think this is the area where it happened. I am thinking that I might have closure if I keep sitting here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My child was at a kindergarten over that river. So, we did not have time to go retrieve him. I hope his teacher was able to evacuate the children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's hard to believe almost everything has been washed away. But the fact that we cannot be sure whether the kids are safe -- and that's what --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I heard that the second wave of tsunami was coming, so we tried to run away. The water started to come in. It looked bad, so we started to go to the second floor together. I have a bad leg, so my wife was behind me, cheering me on, saying "One, two, one, two." Her voice stopped, so I looked back, and she was not there. She's dead. When I went back to get my stuff, she was lying down in the foyer.


ANDERSON: Just some of the thousands of stories out of Japan. I'm Becky Anderson, that is your world connected. We leave you with a video sent in by one of our iReporters, who says he wanted to show the world that people in Japan are grateful for the support coming in globally.

"The Situation Room" is up next, here on CNN.



TEXT: Thank you for praying.