Fear Mounts With Nuclear Plant Blast
In what may become the most serious nuclear power crisis since the Chernobyl disaster, the explosion followed large tremors at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor Saturday afternoon, injuring four workers who were struggling to get the quake-stricken unit under control.
Earlier, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had warned that the reactor, whose cooling system had been crippled by the giant earthquake on Friday, could be nearing a meltdown and that two radioactive substances, cesium and radioactive iodine, had already been detected nearby.
The full extent of the blast remained unclear, but footage on Japanese television showed that the walls of the building housing the reactor crumpled, leaving a skeletal metal frame, according to the Associated Press. The building was likely the containment structure surrounding the reactor vessel.
Japanese authorities said they were still trying to confirm whether an explosion or something else caused the building collapse, but they widened an evacuation zone to areas within a 12.5 mile radius from the plant.
The unit, built 40 years ago by General Electric, is just one of five reactors severely imperiled by the earthquake and subsequent disruptions in the power supply the reactors used for cooling systems.
Earlier, Japanese authorities had declared a state of emergency for the five reactors at two nuclear power complexes as military and utility officials scrambled to tame rising pressure and radioactivity levels inside the units and stabilize the systems used to cool the plants' hot reactor cores.
Radiation had earlier surged to around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of one reactor, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said. Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that the temperatures at two other reactors at a different power plant were rising and that it had lost control over pressure in three reactors there.
The explosion at the reactor is certain to rattle confidence in nuclear power in Japan, victim of the only nuclear weapons explosions and where people have long been sensitized to the dangers of radioactive releases. In the United States, it will deal a severe blow to advocates of a nuclear power renaissance.
Japan Faces Nuclear Meltdown After Explosion At Vast Power Plant Caused By Earthquake Which Killed 1,300
Four workers suffer fractures after explosion at power plant
Radiation levels near Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor already 20 times normal
Confirmed death toll stands at 574, but hundreds are still missing
Region still being hit by aftershocks, some as powerful as magnitude 6
Millions left without power and water as quake cuts off towns
Four trains missing since tsunami struck still have not been found
The reactor building at a nuclear power station in Japan has exploded after the massive earthquake damaged its cooling system.
Four workers suffered fractures in the blast and white smoke was seen pouring from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
There were fears the reactor at the site could melt down and radiation levels around the plant had already reached 20 times the normal.
Fukushima Prefecture official Masato Abe said the cause of the building collapse was unclear.
Footage on Japanese TV showed that the walls of the building had been completely collapsed, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing.
Thousands of people within a twelve-mile radius of the facility have been evacuated and a second state of emergency was declared.
Five nuclear reactors at two power plants had been declared as dangerous after the units lost cooling ability because of quake damage.
A meltdown is a serious collapse of a nuclear power plant's systems and its ability to manage temperatures.
Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.
He said: 'It's not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl. I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe.'
Japan launched a massive military rescue operation today after the 8.9-magnitude quake killed hundreds of people and left part of the northeastern coast a swampy wasteland.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops would join rescue and recovery efforts after a 30ft tsunami smashed through towns, airports and submerged highways.
The official death toll currently stands at 574, but 784 people were still missing and more than 1,000 injured.
Police said between 200 and 300 bodies have been found along the coast in Sendai, the biggest city in the area near the quake's epicentre.
Untold numbers of bodies are believed to be buried in the rubble and debris.
Rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines on Friday and still had not found them by this morning.
East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard the trains.
More than 215,000 people are living in temporary shelters in five states and a million homes have been left without water.
The region has continued to be hit with aftershocks 24 hours after the initial quake, which struck at 5:46am GMT 80 miles off the east Japan coast.
More than 125 aftershocks have occurred, many of them above 6 on the Richter scale.
Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, but there was little that could be down about the killer tsunami.
It swept inland around six miles in some areas, swallowing homes, boats, car, trees and even aircraft.