TOKYO: An explosion at a nuclear power plant in Japan destroyed the building housing the reactor Saturday triggering radiation leaks under the impact of the massive quake and the tsunami it spawned which has left at least 1,700 people dead or unaccounted for.
The radiation leak was low after the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor, government spokesman Mr Yukio Edano told reporters. The explosion which left four persons injured led to a “nationwide atomic alert.”
A strong 6.0 magnitude aftershock rocked Japan’s Fukushima prefecture Saturday. The quake with a preliminary magnitude occurred at 10.15 pm local time, Kyodo news agency said. The quake was followed by several tremblers off the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan over the next hour. The 6.0 magnitude aftershock came after the explosion at the nuclear plant.
Kyodo news agency said the combined number of people who have died or are unaccounted for in Friday’s double disaster that devastated the country’s north-western coast is feared to top 1,700. Local media reports said at least 1,300 may have been killed while chief government spokesman, Mr Yukio Edano said it was believed that more than 1,000 people had died. There were fears that the death toll would rise with Fuji TV reporting that as many as 10,000 people were missing in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi. One report said four whole trains had disappeared and still not been located.
The building housing the main reactor at Fukushima nuclear plant in northern Japan, 250 km north of Tokyo, exploded Saturday afternoon leading to radiation leaks injuring four people as the authorities told 45,000 residents living within a 10-km radius of the leaking plant to evacuate their homes, Kyodo reported. The injuries are not life threatening, an official said. “The plant is experiencing a nuclear meltdown,” Japanese nuclear scientists confirmed, after Prime Minister, Mr Naoto Kan visited the site in a helicopter early Saturday. Mr Kan urged calm among people living near the plant and vowed the government would do its best to protect public health.
Reports said the main building of the plant housing the reactor as well as the outer walls were blown away in the high intensity explosion which occurred at 3.30 pm local time as the cooling water levels dropped alarmingly through evaporation after the quake had damaged the main plant. “The loss of cooling water is leading to a meltdown of the reactor,” Jiji Press reported. Radioactive materials – cesium and iodine – were also detected around the No 1 reactor of the plant, according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 2,100 km stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami packing 23-feet high waves triggered by the massive 8.9 magnitude quake. TV footage showed smoke billowing from the site and reported that the reactor building had been destroyed. The channels and public broadcasters warned nearby residents to turn off air conditioners and not to drink tap water. People going outside were told to avoid exposing their skins and to cover faces with masks and wet towels.
Kyodo quoting police said that another nuclear plant adjacent to the one which exploded was also malfunctioning with the radiation level reaching almost 1,000 times the normal level. The authorities said that an emergency had been declared at all five nuclear reactors as the units had lost cooling ability, as US dispatched plane loads of coolants to the disaster-struck nation. They said that Fukushima, Daiichi plant unit no 1 had exploded after failing to tamp down heat and pressure inside the reactor which had suffered extensive damage due to tidal waves set off by the earthquake which cut down the power supply to the plant. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency described the situation at the Fukushima plant dire. Defence Ministry officials said dozens of troops and fireman trained for chemical disasters had been dispatched to the plant, which is located South of the Miyagi Prefecture which was hardest hit by the quake.