Japan's PM raps nuclear plant operator: report

TOKYO - Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday strongly criticised the operator of an earthquake-stricken atomic power plant as engineers struggled to avert a nuclear catastrophe, Kyodo News reported.

"The TV reported an explosion. But nothing was said to the premier's office for about an hour," the agency quoted him as saying.

"What the hell is going on?"

Kyodo said one of its reporters overheard Kan make the comment during a meeting with executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) at its head office.

It was not clear which explosion he was referring to. The ageing Fukushima No. 1 plant has suffered four blasts since Saturday, including two on Tuesday.

Kan's top spokesman described radiation levels near the plant as hazardous to health.

The prime minister reportedly ordered the company not to withdraw its employees from the power plant, which has been facing a crisis since Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami which knocked out the cooling systems.

"In the event of withdrawal from there, I'm 100 per cent certain that the company will collapse," he was quoted as saying. "I want you all to be determined."

TEPCO has come in for criticism over its handling of information about the crisis.