Australian government evacuates travellers from Tokyo, fearing nuclear meltdown

By David Flynn, March 13 2011
Australian government evacuates travellers from Tokyo, fearing nuclear meltdown

Australians travelling in Japan are being evacuated ahead of a possible nuclear emergency, following the explosion at Fukushima powerplant north of Tokyo.

Australian Oliver Penn, who was in Nagano on the day of the earthquake, made his way back to Narita airport last night where an official from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo rushed him onto a waiting Jetstar flight.

Penn says the embassy official told him the Australian Government wants to get as many Australians as possible out of Tokyo and fears the worst for the Fukushima nuclear power station, located 250km north of Tokyo and damaged an explosion following Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“I went to the Jetstar checkin counter at Narita but they said they couldn’t get me on a flight that night but that I should stay in the airport where they had sleeping bags laid out” Penn told Australian Business Traveller.

“But there were some Australian guys wearing fluorescent yellow vests, from the embassy, and they were shoving everybody onto any flight, Qantas or Jetstar, it didn’t matter."

“They didn’t want people hanging around the airport, they were trying to get everyone out of Tokyo as quickly as possible”.

Penn says the officials were very clear about the impending threat of a nuclear disaster being the reason “they wanted to get as many Australians out of Tokyo as they could” – and that even as they drove the airport, Tokyo radio stations were warning that radiation from the damaged nuclear plant was “spreading quickly”.

Residents were told to close windows, turn off ventilation and air-conditioning systems and not go outdoors unless they were wearing protective clothing.

Embassy staff escorted Penn through Narita airport, bypassing the regular security and customs checks, and rushed him onto a delayed Jetstar flight which left Narita around 11.30pm.

Penn says the flight landed at Cairns early this morning, where he changed onto another flight bound for Sydney which arrived at 1.15pm.

Earlier today Japanese authorities advised of damage to a second nuclear reactor at Fukushima, with The Sydney Morning Herald reporting “they  are operating on the presumption that possible meltdowns are under way at two nuclear reactors.”

Australian Business Traveller sought comment from The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who referred us to an interview earlier today by Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd with ABC News 24, in which Rudd said the Australian government had requested but was yet to receive “urgent briefings on the precise status of these reactors."

Airlines operating to Tokyo are allowing travellers to rebook and in some cases cancel their flights without the usual fees, even for no-change and non-refundable tickets.

We have detailed the change policies of Qantas, Jetstar, BA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, JAL, Singapore Airlines, United-Continental and many other international airlines at this page: Airlines waive change fees for flights to Tokyo's Narita and Haneda Airports


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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