Radiation from the Fukushima leak has been detected across Britain, it was confirmed today as Japan was put on ‘maximum’ alert.
The Health Protection Agency revealed that radioactive iodine had already been discovered 5,500 miles from the stricken plant in Oxfordshire and Glasgow.
Air samples are being tested elsewhere in Britain over fears that much of the country could be hit by the radioactive plume.
Dr Michael Clark of the HPA said: ‘Very low levels of radioactivity, traceable to Fukushima, have been detected at monitoring stations in the UK including Chilton, in Oxfordshire, and Glasgow, in Scotland.
‘These traces have been found in Europe – Switzerland, Germany and Iceland – and in the USA.
‘They’re trace levels but of course with radioactivity we can measure very low amounts.’
The revelation came as Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan told his parliament that the country was grappling with its worst problems since the Second World War.
‘This quake, tsunami and the nuclear accident are the biggest crises for Japan’ in decades, Mr Kan said.
He warned the crises remained unpredictable, but added: ‘From now on, we will continue to handle it in a state of maximum alert.’
Hundreds of pregnant women are fleeing at-risk areas over fears that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant will harm their unborn babies.
It comes as radioactive water and plutonium-contaminated soil were found outside the plant on Japan’s tsunami-hit north-east coast, where brave workers are battling to stop a meltdown.
More than 150 women from the north-east coast have travelled over 450 miles from the crippled power station to check into hospitals in Osaka to give birth in a safer place.
At least 58 women have fled Tokyo – 150 miles south of Fukushima – following the discovery of high levels of radioactive iodine in the city’s water supply.
So many are arriving in Osaka that hospital bosses fear they might not have enough staff to cope.
Officials are making preparations to tend the women in public buildings that will be turned into temporary maternity wards.
One of the first pregnant women to flee the region was 31-year-old New Zealander Jayne Nakata, who lives with her Japanese husband just 30 miles from Fukushima.
After driving 600 miles to stay with her husband’s family, she said: ‘I don’t have any plans to return home until I am certain it is safe for my child.’
Their worries were further compacted by the discovery of a pool of radioactive water outside the Fukushima facility.
Officials believe the contaminated water has sent radioactivity levels soaring at the coastal complex and caused more radiation to seep into soil and seawater.
Crews have also found traces of plutonium in soil outside of the complex.
Hiro Hasegawa, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co which owns the shattered Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The trench is located outside the building and the water contains radioactive materials.
‘There is normally no water found in this area.’
It comes after thousands of furious demonstrators gathered outside the head office of TEPCO after officials mistakenly said radiation in leaking water in the Unit 2 reactor was 10 million times above normal.
The plant, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo, was crippled on March 11 when a tsunami spawned by a powerful earthquake smashed into Japan’s coast.
The huge wave engulfed much of the complex, destroying crucial power systems needed to cool the power station’s nuclear fuel rods.
Since then, three of the complex’s six units are believed to have partially melted down, and emergency crews have struggled with everything from malfunctioning pumps to dangerous spikes in radiation that have forced temporary evacuations.
Mr Hasegawa added: ‘We do not believe (the radioactive water) is leaking into the ocean.