Fukushima damaged plant - AP - Mar. 15, 2011
The damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, on Tuesday March 15, 2011. Photo by AP
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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Japan, reeling from a major earthquake, its ensuing tsunami, and a possible nuclear crisis was in the throes of a colossal catastrophe.

"If you look at what has happened in Japan, it is of course a colossal national disaster, a catastrophe," Medvedev said at a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Russia has stepped up its monitoring of radiation levels in its far eastern regions after an earthquake and tsunami set off a series of accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northern Japan.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said that radiation in Russia's Primorye region, which includes the city of Vladivostok and faces Japan across the Sea of Japan, was well within normal levels on Thursday.

"I hope there will not be such serious problems, such cataclysms" in Russia and its other neighbors, Medvedev said at a meeting at his Gorki residence, outside Moscow.

Several countries have expressed concern since Japan reported elevated radiation levels in the atmosphere after several explosions in the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Low concentrations of radioactive particles have reportedly been heading towards North America, while widespread panic has engulfed some Chinese cities.

Supermarkets in Beijing and other Chinese cities ran out of salt on Thursday as shoppers bought up the staple, fearing rumors that future shipments of sea salt will be contaminated by radiation from Japan.

Chinese stores have allegedly capitalized on the shopping frenzy, with the price of salt reaching unprecedented heights.

The people of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai have also been stocking up on iodine tablets, which can help to inhibit the absorption of radiation if used correctly.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday rumors about dangerous radiation levels are harmful and untrue, and they encouraged people not to panic. The organization implored the public to halt such rumors from spreading, which they claim is harmful to public morale.

Thus far, the immediate radius of the Fukushima plant is the only area deemed in danger of radioactive contamination.

Japanese authorities have called for the evacuation of residents within 20 kilometers of the damaged nuclear plant, and told residents within 30 kilometers to stay indoors.