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Nuclear Plants and Disasters: NRC Inspection Results

Nuclear Plants and Disasters: NRC Inspection Results

by John Sullivan and Ariel Wittenberg, Special to ProPublica, June 29

The NRC ordered the inspection in response to the March earthquake and tsunami that crippled Fukushima reactors.. The purpose was to conduct a fast check on the equipment and procedures that U.S. plants are required to have in place in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

Agency officials unveiled the results in May, stating in a news release that “out of 65 operating reactor sites, 12 had issues with one or more of the requirements during the inspections.”

But ProPublica’s examination of the reports found that 60 Plant sites had discrepancies. that ranged from broken machinery, missing equipment and poor training to things like blocked drains or a lack of preventive maintenance. Some of the more serious findings include:

At the Arkansas Nuclear Oneplant outside Russellville, several portable pumps dedicated to flood control didn’t work.
At the Clintonplant outside Bloomington, Ill., a fire pump broke down during a test.
At the Sequoyah plant outside Chattanooga, Tenn., inspectors couldn’t find drain valves needed for flood control.
At the Diablo Canyon plant in California, a fence blocked the path for a hose to pump emergency water.

Plant officials said they have moved to fix those problems and that none would have prevented them from responding in an emergency. The NRC told ProPublica that all the issues raised by inspectors “fell well short of being imminent safety concerns” and were being addressed.

In a summary attached to the inspection findings, however, the NRC expressed some concern.

“While individually, none of these observations posed a significant safety issue, they indicate a potential industry trend of failure to maintain equipment and strategies required to mitigate some design and beyond design-basis events,” the summary says.

The NRC reported fewer problems at the plants than ProPublica because it only counted those in which a plant had a problem demonstrating how its emergency preparedness plan would work. The agency said that, despite these questions, all the plants could protect their reactors.

The special inspection covered equipment and procedures for use in disasters that are beyond the scope of the plant’s design — major earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and terrorist attacks.

Many of the items covered in the special inspection are supposed to be checked by NRC inspectors on a regular basis. Items that were required after the 9/11 attacks to respond to large explosions and fires — like extra pumps, hoses and generators — are supposed to be reviewed as part of regular triennial fire protection inspections. As populations have soared around Nuclear Reactors, so has the potential for danger.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the large number of problems uncovered in the special inspection shows that NRC must strengthen oversight.

“I think they need to look at the inspections,” said Lochbaum, whose group monitors safety matters. “Why did they find so much in these inspections? Shouldn’t these have been found sooner?”

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Nuclear plants conduct emergency drills every two years, and Lochbaum said that one possible improvement would be for inspectors to check the condition of the emergency response equipment then.

Mary Lampert, executive director of the advocacy group Pilgrim Watch in Massachusetts, said many of the deficiencies uncovered by the NRC may seem minor but could quickly turn into bigger problems in an emergency situation.

“They all add up. They cannot wait for a disaster to start looking around for a screwdriver that is required to open a valve because time is typically of the essence,” she said.

Lampert said it is important for the NRC to keep an eye on the problems they found and not simply assume the nuclear companies will fix everything.

The Fukushima accident has focused the NRC’s attention on the risk that a natural disaster or attack could knock out a plant’s safety systems for an extended period and lead to a radiation release.

Although all plants are designed to withstand natural disasters, U.S. nuclear facilities are aging. Recent studies have shown that earthquake risks are now higher than they were predicted when some plants were built, although the NRC says reactors can still withstand the highest expected quake. Now historic flooding on the Missouri River is testing design limits at two Nebraska plants.

Flood waters are expected to come within a few feet of levels the Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear plants were built to withstand. At Fort Calhoun, a special berm providing backup protection collapsed Sunday after being damaged. Operators briefly turned on emergency diesel power but said there was no risk to reactor cooling systems. The plant has been shut down for refueling since early April.

On April 1, the NRC launched a task force of senior agency managers to examine the ability of plants to respond to events that might overwhelm existing safety systems and procedures. The panel is concentrating on disaster preparedness and the ability to survive a lengthy blackout, as at Fukushima.

The six-member group is scheduled to report its findings to the commission on July 19, and the NRC has held two briefings on the subject so far. Until the task force reports back, the NRC said it would not comment on what, if any, changes the agency might propose.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other watchdog groups have said that Fukushima points to the need for some obvious improvements, such as adding backup generators and moving used nuclear fuel out of cooling pools and into safer storage locations.

The nuclear industry’s main trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, is teaming up with the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations and the research organization the Electric Power Research Institute to develop disaster preparedness guidelines for nuclear companies, said Thomas Kauffman, a spokesman for NEI.

Kauffman said U.S. nuclear plants have survived hurricanes, tornadoes and extended power outages without damage to their reactors, but the industry is looking hard at Fukushima nevertheless. “We want to take the lessons learned and make sure they are applied across the industry,” he said.

Chairman Gregory Jaczko raised the issue of emergency preparedness this month at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna. According to a copy of his speech, he brought up the post-Fukushima inspection results.

“While I see nothing that calls into question the safety of our plants, I see areas where performance was not as good as would be preferred,”
Jaczko said. Changes are likely, he added, “although it is too early to say right now precisely what those changes might be.”

Jaczko visited the Nebraska plants this week and declared that, while flood conditions were likely to continue for some time, the plants are safe.

“Water levels are at a place where the plant [workers] can deal with them,” Jaczko said at Fort Calhoun on Monday, according to the Iowa Independent. “The risk is really very low that something could go wrong.”

ProPublica intern Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this story.

SOURCE

Chernobyl And What To Expect From Fukushima – The Facts

Chernobyl And What To Expect From Fukushima – The Facts
3-29-11

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1) Radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl meltdown spread over 40% of Europe.

2) Nearly 5 million people still live with dangerous levels of radioactive contamination.

3) Most of the Chernobyl radionuclides (up to 57%) fell outside the former USSR and caused noticeable radioactive contamination over a large area of the world ­ practically the entire Northern hemisphere.

4) Levels of radioactive contamination in the first days and weeks after the catastrophe were thousands of times higher than those recorded 2 or 3 years later.

5) When the reactor exploded, it expelled not only gases and aerosols but also particles of U fuel melted together with other radionuclides ­ firm hot particles. When absorbed into the body (with water, food or inhaled air), such particles generate high doses of radiation even if an individual is in an area of low contamination.

6) Lastly, the impact of the 2400 tons (some authors estimate 6720 tons) of lead dumped from helicopters onto the reactor to quench the fire has not been adequately evaluated. A significant part of this lead was spewed out into the atmosphere as a result of its fusion, boiling and sublimation in the burning reactor.

7) In Wales, one of the regions most heavily contaminated by Chernobyl fallout, abnormally low birth weights (less than 1500 g) were noted in 1986 and 1987 (Busby, 1995).

This Girl hasn't forgotten Chernobyl

8) Children from the contaminated areas of Belarus have digestive tract epithelium characteristic of senile changes (Nesterenko, 1996; ebeshko et al, 2006).

9) The biological age of inhabitants from the radioactive contaminated territories of Ukraine exceed their calendar ages by 7 to 9 years (Mezhzherin, 1996)

10) Adverse effects as a result of Chernobyl irradiation have been found in every group that has been studied. Brain damage has been found in individuals directly exposed…Premature cataracts; tooth and mouth abnormalities; and blood, lymphatic, heart, lung gastrointestinal, urologic, bone, and skin diseases afflict and impair people, young and old alike. Endocrine dysfunction, particularly thyroid disease, is far more common than might be expected, with some 1,000 cases of thyroid dysfunction for every case of thyroid cancer, a marked increase after the catastrophe. There are genetic damage and birth defects especially in children of liquidators and in children born in area with high levels of radioisotope contamination.

11) 5.1 Blood and lymphatic system diseases For both children and adults, diseases of the blood and the circulatory and lymphatic systems are among the most widespread consequences of the Chernobyl radioactive contamination.

12) The incidence of diseases of the blood and blood forming organs was 3.8 fold higher among evacuees 9 years after the catastrophe.

13) Diseases of the blood and circulatory system for people living in the contaminated territories (Ukraine) increased 11 to 15 fold for the first 12 years after the catastrophe (1988-1999) Prysyazhnyuk et al 2002).

14) Incidence of hemorrhages in newborns in the contaminated Chechersky District of Gomel Province (Belarus) is more than double than before the catastrophe (Kulakov et al, 1997).

15) In the observation period 1992-1997, there was a 22.1% increase in the incidence of fatal cardiovascular disease liquidators compared to 2.5% in the general population
(Belarus) (Pflugbeil et al, 2006).

16) Changes in genetic structures in both reproductive and somatic cells determine and define the occurrence of many diseases. Ionizing radiation causes damage to hereditary structures. The huge collective dose from the Chernobyl catastrophe (127-150 million persons/rad) has resulted in damage that will span several generations, causing changes in genetic structures and various types of mutations: genomic mutations (change in the number of chromosomes), chromosomal mutations (damage to the structure of chromosomes – translocations, deletions, insertions and inversions), and small (point) mutations.

17) In 1991 in Norway, a 10-fold increase in the number of chromosomal aberrations was found in 56 adults compared to controls (Brogger et al, 1996, Schmitz Feuerhake, 2006).

18) In 1987 in Austria, among 17 adults examined there was a 4-6 fold increase in the number of chromosomal aberrations.

19) There was a doubling of Down syndrome in Lothian, Scotland one of the territories contaminated by Chernobyl (Ramsey et al, 1991).

20) In Norway, cataracts in newborns occurred twice as often
1 year after the catastrophe (Irgens et al, 1991).

21) Incidence of neural tube defects in Turkey increased between 2- and 5-fold after the catastrophe (Hoffman, 2001; Schmitz-Feuerhake, 2006).

22) The most recent forecast by international agencies predicted there would be between 9000 and 28,000 fatal cancers between 1986 and 2056, obviously underestimating the risk factors and the collective doses. On the basis of I-131 and Cs 137 radioisotope doses to which populations were exposed and a comparison of cancer mortality in the heavily and less contaminated territories and pre- and post-Chernobyl cancer levels, a more realistic figure is 212,000 to 245,000 in Europe and 19,000 in the rest of the world.

23) More than 1000 cancer deaths in Norland Province, Sweden, between 1986 and 1999 have been attributed to the Chernobyl fallout (Abdelrahman, 2007).

24) After 20 years the incidence of thyroid cancer among individuals under 18 years of age at the time of the catastrophe increased more than 200-fold (National Belarussian Report, 2006).

25) In the Marne-Ardennes provinces (France) cancer incidence increased 360% in women and 500% in men between 1975 and 2005 (Cherie-Challine et al, 2006).

26) From 1985-1989 to 1990-1992 in Connecticut, USA, rates of thyroid cancer for all age groups increased by 23% (from 3.46 to 4.29 per 100,000, after 10 previous years without change (Reid and Mangano, 1995).

27) In Greece, infants born between 1.7.86 and 31.12.87, exposed to Chernobyl fallout in utero, had 2.6 times the incidence of leukemia compared to children born between 1.1.80 and 31.12.85 and between 1.1.88 and 31.12.90. (Petridou et al, 2004)

28) Changes in the sex ratio and the stillbirth odds ratio for gender were significant for Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Latvia and Sweden (Scherb and Wiegelt, 2000).

29) Great Britain. Ten months after the catastrophe, a significant increase in perinatal mortality was found in the two most contaminated areas of the country (Bentham, 1991).

30) Sweden. Infant mortality increased immediately after the catastrophe and increased significantly in 1989-1992 (Korblein, 2008).

2. COWS’ MILK SHOWS FIRST SIGNS OF RADIATION

First Japan suffered an earthquake, then a tsunami, then nuclear meltdowns and radiation.

Experts advised the Japanese people not to panic.
Experts advised people that the food was safe to eat, and that radiation had not entered their food supply.

This past week, the world learned that Japanese food and water were tainted with radioactive iodine.

Food is now routinely tested in Japan. The first food to show signs of radiation was cow’s milk. This makes sense, as cows are eating 50-80 pounds of feed each and every day. Radiation is concentrated in their bodies like sponges soaking up water. In a cow, the water is filtered and excreted and the concentrated toxins are consumed by milk drinkers. Twenty-one pounds of milk are required to produce one pound of butter.
Eating butter further concentrates toxins; in this case, radioactivity.

Armed with the knowledge that milk is the perfect barometer to test for the presence of radiation, it would make sense to test for levels of radiation in America’s milk as plumes from Japan are carried by the jet stream over California, Kansas, and then onto New York.

Here is where today’s stupid human trick kicks in.

It would make perfect sense to test milk from California Happy Cows, just in case…Sadly, this is news that the United States Department of Agriculture just does not want to know.

As of March 22, 2011, California milk is not being tested for radiation on a daily basis. As a matter of policy, California’s Department of Public Health routinely tests California milk for radiation once every month. One would assume (love that word) that with jet steams being what they are, and with Japan’s tragedy having the potential to radiate to Americans, it would be a logical human conclusion to want to test milk.

The spokesperson for California’s Department of Public Health, Mike Sicilia, had this stupid human trick comment:

This is typical routine testing and has been done for many years.”

Routine once-per-month testing will continue, because the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sees no reason for caution. California’s Department of Public Health reLIES upon FDA’s lead.

http://rense.com/general93/chern.htm

Conflicting messages on the need for US residents to purchase Potassium Iodide

Surgeon General: Buying Iodide a “Precaution” Conflicting messages appear in the effort to buy iodide tablets

By LORI PREUITT
Updated 3:30 PM PDT, Tue, Mar 15, 2011 | Print

The fear that a nuclear cloud could float from the shores of Japan to the shores of California has some people making a run on iodine tablets. Pharmacists across California report being flooded with requests.

State and county officials spent much of Tuesday trying to keep people calm by saying that getting the pills wasn’t necessary, but then the United States surgeon general supported the idea as a worthy “precaution.”

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U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is in the Bay Area touring a peninsula hospital. NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo asked her about the run on tablets and Dr. Benjamin said although she wasn’t aware of people stocking up, she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared.

On the other side of the issue is Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency. Huston said state officials, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Energy Commission, were monitoring the situation and said people don’t need to buy the pills.

“Even if we had a radiation release from Diablo Canyon (in San Luis Obispo County), iodide would only be issued to people living within a 10-mile radius of the plant,” Huston added.

Santa Clara County’s public health officer Dr. Martin Fenstersheib told the Mercury News he also does not recommend getting the tablets, adding some people can be severely allergic to the iodine.

“There is no reason for doing it,” Fenstersheib told the paper.

Either way, the pills are hard to get. eBay prices have skyrocketed.

View more videos at: http://www.nbcbayarea.com.

Japan’s Nightmare Continues: All THREE damaged Nuclear Reactors now in “meltdown”. Evacuations expand as potential for exposure reaches mainland US

Japan’s nightmare gets even WORSE: All THREE damaged nuclear reactors now in ‘meltdown’ at tsunami-hit power station

By Richard Shears
14th March 2011

Destruction Annihilation Devastation Catastophe

* Fuel rods appear to be melting inside three over-heating reactors
* Experts class development as ‘partial meltdown’
* Japan calls for U.S. help cooling the reactor
* 180,000 people have been evacuated amid meltdown fears

The Japanese nuclear reactor hit by the tsunami went into ‘meltdown’ today, as officials admitted that fuel rods appear to be melting inside three damaged reactors.

There is a risk that molten nuclear fuel can melt through the reactor’s safety barriers and cause a serious radiation leak.

There have already been explosions inside two over-heating reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, and the fuel rods inside a third were partially exposed as engineers desperately fight to keep them cool after the tsunami knocked out systems.

A former nuclear power plant designer has said Japan is facing an extremely grave crisis and called on the government to release more information, which he said was being suppressed. Masashi Goto told a news conference in Tokyo that one of the reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant was “highly unstable”, and that if there was a meltdown the “consequences would be tremendous”. He said such an event might be very likely indeed. So far, the government has said a meltdown would not lead to a sizeable leak of radioactive materials.

‘Meltdown’: The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant moments after it was rocked by a second explosion today. Officials later admitted that fuel rods are ‘highly likely’ to be melting in three damaged reactors

‘Meltdown’: The Fukushima Daiichi

Fireball: A build-up of hydrogen in Unit Three of Fukushima ignites in a ball of fire that can be seen for miles

Extensive damage: Experts now debating if radiation could hit US west Coast

NEWS FOOTAGE


WHAT HAPPENS IN A NUCLEAR MELTDOWN ?

The Japanese reactors work by harnessing the energy of thousands of nuclear fuel rods, that are normally kept submerged in water to keep them cool.

But if the cooling system fails, the heat generated by the nuclear reaction increases uncontrollably.

If that continues for long enough, the nuclear fuel can melt, forming molten pools on the floor of the reactor at thousands of degrees celcius.

This is a meltdown.

These pools of molten fuel can melt through the reactor safety barriers – there is an inner and outer shield.

The worst case scenario is that the protective shield around the reactors is melted away, resulting in a serious leak of radioactive material.

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Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said it was ‘highly likely’ that the fuel rods inside all three stricken reactors are melting.

Some experts class that a partial meltdown of the reactor, but others would only use that term for when molten nuclear fuel melts through a reactor’s inner chamber – but not through the outer containment shell.

As fuel rods melt, they form an extremely hot molten pool at the bottom of the reactor that can melt through even the toughest of containment barriers.

Japan is fighting to avoid a nuclear catastrophe after the tsunami. There was a hydrogen explosion at the reactor in Unit Three of the power station earlier today, in which eleven workers were hurt by the blast that was felt 25 miles away.

The reactor at Unit One of Fukushima exploded on Saturday, blowing several walls away but engineers said the core was still contained. The fuel rods in the reactor in Unit Two of the plant were partially exposed from their coolant today – which also increases the risk of meltdown.

Engineers have been fighting to keep the reactors under control after the tsunami knocked out emergency coolant systems on Friday.

Earlier engineers were frantically trying to cool radioactive materials at all the reactors with seawater but had halted the process, which resulted in a rise in radiation levels and pressure.

Plant managers knew an explosion was a possibility as they struggled to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessel in Unit Three, but apparently felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid a complete meltdown.

In the end, the hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the blast, which was felt 25 miles away.

The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Company said radiation levels at the reactor were still within legal limits.

A Red Cross rescue worker, in red, is scanned for signs of radiation after returning from Fukushima to his hospital in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture

Consequences of meltdown: this graphic shows how a full-scale meltdown could affect the United States

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U.S. NAVY FLEES RADIOACTIVE PLUME FROM REACTOR BLAST

The Unites States Navy has moved its Seventh Fleet away from an earthquake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant after detecting raised radiation levels.

The fleet said today that the radiation was from a plume of smoke and steam released from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which has been hit by two explosions since Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, pictured, was about 100miles (160km) offshore when its instruments detected the radiation.

But the fleet said the dose of radiation was about the same as one month’s normal exposure to natural background radiation in the environment. The aircraft carrier is the USS Ronald Reagan

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Unit Three reactor’s inner containment vessel holding nuclear rods is intact, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment and public.

The government had warned that a further explosion was possible because of the build-up of hydrogen in the building housing the reactor.

More than 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area.

Japan has distributed 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centres as a precaution. it can be used to protect against thyroid cancer in the event of a radiation leak.

The developments came as Californian officials monitor the situation, amid fears that nuclear material could be blown across the Atlantic to the U.S. if there is a large leak.

However, the winds could shift and hit a different part of the U.S after crossing the Pacific.

Michael Sicilia, spokesman for California Department of Public Health, said: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely in conjunction with our federal partners.’

In the event of a major leak, radiation would take between seven and 10 days to cross the Atlantic.

In Japan earlier a state of emergency had been declared after the high levels of radiation were detected at the nuclear power complex.

Thousands of families have been evacuated and many more were yesterday being checked for radiation exposure as Japan began to take stock of what the prime minister labelled its ‘most severe crisis since the Second World War’ – when the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Tens of thousands are feared dead, with bodies being picked up from beaches along a 300-mile stretch of coastline.


Reaching out: A young woman who has been isolated at a makeshift facility to screen, cleanse and isolate people with high radiation levels, looks at her dog through a window in Nihonmatsu, northern Japan

AIRLINE’S RADIATION FEARS

German carrier Luftansa has begun scanning flights from Japan for radioactive material – but have not found any yet.

Airport fire services have checked planes landing at Frankfurt and Munich, an official spokesman confirmed.

The carrier are the first to take the action – as a U.S. aircraft carrier sent to help relief efforts was forced to move because of the radiation leak at Fukushima.

The ship was around 100 miles north-east of the plant when radiation was detected.

Others are being gathered from the sea and thousands more are believed to lie buried deep in mud under the debris of homes and cars. At least 10,000 people – half the population of the port of Minami Sanriku – were unaccounted for and the town has been virtually wiped off the map.

Nearby Rikuzentakata was also swamped and destroyed by Friday’s tsunami, killing at least 400 people.

Hundreds of Britons – many of them English language teachers – are among the missing.

Some 100,000 troops and civil defence members, backed by ships and helicopters, yesterday began the mammoth task of clearing rubble and searching for survivors and bodies.

So many people died because when the nine-magnitude Pacific Ocean earthquake struck 80 miles off the coast of Sendai, warnings were issued that a tsunami would hit land in an hour.

But survivors said it struck in nine minutes.

There were warnings last night that strong aftershocks, with a magnitude of six or more, could be expected for at least another week – and Tokyo shuddered several times yesterday as a series of shocks struck the city.

Before and after: The Fukushima plant has suffered two major blasts since the earthquake last week – as can be seen from the image, right

Horrific memories: The towns destroyed by the tsunami look very similar to Hiroshima in 1945

But the gravest consequence of the earthquake and tsunami could yet be felt, as scientists frantically tried to control the threat of nuclear meltdown.


Men in white protective suits and masks swept Geiger counters over frightened survivors yesterday as nuclear experts around the world monitored the crippled and unstable Fukushima plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Up to 200,000 people were evacuated from within a 12-mile radius of the plant, which remains the biggest threat.

Officials revealed that 22 people had already been recorded with radiation poisoning, and they said around 190 were in the plant’s vicinity when radioactive steam was deliberately leaked in an attempt to cool the reactors.

And the words designed to reassure the public that they were in no danger from any leaked radiation were at odds with those from the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power.

The company conceded that radiation levels around the complex had risen above the safety limit but tried to appease the public by stating
that it did not mean an ‘immediate threat’ to human health.

It also emerged yesterday that the government ignored explicit warnings from a Japanese expert on nuclear power more than three years ago.
Professor Ishibashi Katsuhiko, of Kobe University, said the guidelines introduced to protect the nuclear plants were ‘seriously flawed’ and that the plants were vulnerable to major quakes.

‘Unless radical steps are taken now to reduce the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to earthquakes, Japan could experience a true nuclear catastrophe in the near future,’ he warned in 2007.

Elsewhere, millions of people are without power and water, factories will remain closed for weeks and Tokyo has been warned there will probably have to be power cuts to conserve electricity.

At rescue centres in Sendai, where people prepared for a third night sleeping on the floor, notice boards are cluttered with the names of the missing.

Weeping survivors said they could only pray that poor communications had failed to put them in touch with their loved ones. One elderly woman reading through one of the lists suddenly exclaimed:’That’s me! They say I’m missing. Well, here I am. My sons must be worried sick about me. But I’m OK.’

Rail services to Sendai and beyond were postponed indefinitely and the only way anyone had any hope of reaching the stricken region was by air, flying to towns on the west coast and attempting to drive across the island. But police have blocked many roads, to keep them clear for rescue vehicles and ambulances.

From the air, rail carriages could be seen lying on their sides. Cars and houses were piled up like debris thrown on to a huge rubbish tip.

So how alarmed should we be over this crisis?

By MICHAEL HANLON

Enthusiasts for atomic power are today, inevitably, on the back foot. Those who argue that in the normal course of things nuclear energy is the safest and most reliable form of energy have to contend with a single word: ‘meltdown’.

This is a scenario that brings dread to the hearts of nuclear engineers – an uncontained chain reaction in a reactor core, a blob of molten radioactive metal burning its way out of the containment chamber and a massive release of radioactive fission products such as iodine-131 and strontium-90 into the environment.

It was a partial meltdown which led to the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1978, and a similar explosive breakdown that caused the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Both incidents brought strident calls to abandon nuclear power altogether – calls which are bound to intensify following the still-unfolding Japanese catastrophe.

On top of the worst earthquake in its history and a tsunami which may have killed tens of thousands, Japan – a nation which for obvious reasons after the events of 1945 has a love-hate relationship with nuclear power – is staring into the atomic abyss.

What actually caused the accident at Fukushima is still unclear but it seems that in simple terms, the power station was hit by a power cut.

First, seismic detectors at the plant, alerted by the earthquake, triggered an automatic shutdown – by inserting boron rods into the reactor cores, stopping the heat-producing fission reaction.

Normally, the reactor fuel would simply have cooled down safely over a matter of days. But then the tsunami swept through local power grids and back-up generators which provided the electricity for the reactor cooling pumps – possibly fracturing the water main into the plant as well.

Like a car engine with a leaking radiator, the heat started to build up to dangerous levels. Nuclear power stations are essentially huge kettles. You have a power source – the nuclear reactor itself – which gets hot; several hundred degrees in a controlled fission reaction.

The heat is produced by the fission – splitting – of atoms of radioactive materials, such as uranium.

This produces not only heat but radiation, and also the creation of radioactive by-products which themselves emit heat as they undergo radioactive decay.

This explains why, even if the primary nuclear reaction is stopped, heat will continue to be generated for days – enough to melt the reactor core if it is not cooled. In normal operation, all this heat is useful – it is used to boil water, which makes steam that is then used to drive electricity-generating turbines.

The problem is that you cannot simply turn off an atomic reactor instantly. It takes days for the red-hot fuel rods to cool down – and that is provided they are supplied with adequate coolant.

Professor Richard Wakeford, a nuclear expert at Manchester University, said yesterday: ‘If the fuel is not covered by cooling water it could become so hot it begins to melt – if all the fuel is uncovered you could get a large-scale meltdown.’

Hopefully this will not happen, and thanks to both the design of the Japanese reactors and to the swift and organised response of the authorities, handing out iodine pills to prevent the ingestion of cancer-causing substances, there is little chance that Fukushima will enter the annals of notoriety alongside Chernobyl.

One possibility which can be discounted is the so-called ‘China Syndrome’, the wholly fictitious idea that a molten reactor core could melt its way through the Earth and emerge on the other side. It is now known that even a total meltdown, although deadly, would soon be contained and cool down naturally. But already questions are being asked – about Japan’s nuclear safety record, and what implications this has outside Japan.

Was it wrong to build a series of atomic reactors so close to the ocean? Experts suggest that given the whole country is an earthquake zone, there is nowhere the plant could be built which would not be at risk.

Unlike Chernobyl, there is no chance that this could become an international incident; Japan is simply too far away from anywhere else for the radiation to spread, and the most serious radioactive contaminant – Iodine-131 – has a half-life of just eight days. Furthermore, the Japanese government is rich, competent and open – which the Soviet authorities in 1986 conspicuously were not.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365781/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-All-3-Fukushima-nuclear-plant-reactors-meltdown.html#ixzz1GbwEENuW

U.S. Navy crewmembers in Japan

By Michael Sheridan
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Originally Published:Monday, March 14th 2011, 6:57 AM
Updated: Monday, March 14th 2011, 10:07 AM

Seventeen crewmembers on three U.S. Navy helicopters were found to have been contaminated with low levels of radiation, officials say.

Should American forces be in Japan aiding with relief efforts?
Absolutely. We need to stand with our Japanese friends as long as we are needed.
No. We are facing a budget crisis – we need to look inward before looking outward.
Not sure.

The radioactivity was detected when the service members returned to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan aboard three helicopters. They were treated with soap and water and their clothes were discarded.

“No further contamination was detected,” the military said.

The helicopters were also decontaminated.

The U.S. 7th Fleet, positioned about 100 miles northeast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to deliver aid to Japan’s coastal region, moved its ships further away due to “airborne radioactivity” and contamination found on its planes.

The military noted, however, that the level of contamination was very low, and the ship movement was merely a precaution.

“For perspective, the maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship’s force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun,” the Navy said.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a second explosion Sunday. At least six workers at the plant were injured in the blast, officials said. A smaller explosion rocked the plant on Saturday.

Radioactive steam was vented recently from the plant in order to ease pressure on the reactors and prevent another meltdown, CNN reported. It is believe that a meltdown previously occurred in at least one of the reactors in the last few days.

“We remain totally committed to our mission of providing assistance to the people of Japan,” Navy spokesman Jeff Davis told ABC News.

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Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2011/03/14/2011-03-14_17_us_navy_crewmembers_exposed_to_low_level_radiation_in_japan.html#ixzz1GbxJ1NDA

Winds at Japan Power Plants Should Send Radiation out to Sea
Meghan Evans
By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
Mar 14, 2011; 9:26 AM ET

Following Friday’s major earthquake east of Japan, fears were raised of radiations leaks and nuclear meltdowns at power plants.

Radiation was reported to be leaking over the weekend from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from one of the reactors that had lost its cooling system.

CNN reports that a cooling system of a second reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failed on Sunday, forcing officials to expand the evacuation zone of surrounding residents from 10 km to 20 km (6 miles to 12 miles).

Complicating matters, a second hydrogen explosion occurred at the plant early Monday.

A man holds his baby as they are scanned for levels of radiation in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011. Friday’s quake and tsunami damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant in the prefecture, and at least one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown, raising fears of a radiation leak. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

A state of emergency was declared on Sunday at a nuclear power plant in Onagawa, Japan, as well. Excessive radiation levels have been recorded following Friday’s earthquake, according to the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency.

Three reactor units at the Onagawa plant are being watched and controlled for radiation leaks and possible meltdown.

The wind direction may impact where the radiation goes both at a local level and even across the globe. The wind direction at both of these locations are similar since the Onagawa power plant is located just to the northeast of Fukushima power plant.

“The exact direction of the winds would have to be known at the time of the release of a large amount of radiation to understand exactly where the radiation would go,” according to Expert Senior Global Meteorologist Jim Andrews.

It is unknown when a large release of radiation would occur, if at all, at this point.

“You can calculate how long the release of a radiation would take to cross the Pacific from Japan to the U.S. by choosing different speeds that the radioactive particles might be moving and using the direct distance between given locations- say Sendai, Japan, and Seattle, Wash.,” Andrews added.

However, even that calculation may not reflect how long the particle would take to cross the Pacific, since it would not likely cross the ocean in a direct path. This is the case because the wind flow is often a complicated pattern.

A typical wind trajectory across the Pacific is westerly, since there is often a large dome of high pressure over the central Pacific and an area of low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska.

Any storm systems moving across the Pacific would add kinks in the westerly flow that would make the path of a particle crossing the Pacific longer.

“In other words, it would be a very intricate and difficult calculation,” said Andrews.

On a local level, it is easier to break down the direction of the wind.

On Monday, the winds at the Fukushima power plant and the Onagawa power plant will generally be out of the north to northwest. So, the wind flow will still be directed offshore into the Pacific.

This would be a protective wind that would blow most of the radiation out to sea.

The wind direction will switch to an onshore direction Monday night into Tuesday, threatening to send the radiation toward the population.

“We are getting into the time of year where onshore winds occur most often,” said Andrews.

This is not good news, since an onshore direction would blow most of the radiation toward populated areas. An added threat is that with higher elevations just about 4 miles inland from the power plants, if a temperature inversion sets up in the atmosphere, radiation could be trapped.

Authorities have warned residents to keep windows and doors closed and air-conditioning fans switched off to eliminate the intake of air from outside.

Calculated time for radioactive particles to cross the Pacific from the power plants in Japan to big West Coast cities if the particles take a direct path and move at a speed of 20 mph:

Cities Est. Distance (miles) Est. Time to Cross Pacific (days)
Anchorage 3,457 7
Honolulu 3,847 8
Seattle 4,792 10
Los Angeles 5,477 11

http://www.accuweather.com/blogs/news/story/46940/winds-at-japan-power-plants-sh-1.asp

THOUSANDS OF BODIES WASH ASHORE overwhelms quake-hit Japan

By JAY ALABASTER and TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Todd Pitman, Associated Press – Mon Mar 14, 11:50 am ET

TAKAJO, Japan – A tide of bodies washed up along Japan’s coastline Monday, overwhelming crematoriums, exhausting supplies of body bags and adding to the spiraling humanitarian, economic and nuclear crisis after the massive earthquake and tsunami.

Millions of people faced a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the northeast coast devastated by Friday’s disasters. Meanwhile, a third reactor at a nuclear power plant lost its cooling capacity and its fuel rods were fully exposed, raising fears of a meltdown. The stock market plunged over the likelihood of huge losses by Japanese industries including big names such as Toyota and Honda.

On the coastline of Miyagi prefecture, which took the full force of the tsunami, a Japanese police official said 1,000 bodies were found scattered across the coastline. Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, reported that 2,000 bodies washed up on two shorelines in Miyagi.

In one town in a neighboring prefecture, the crematorium was unable to handle the large number of bodies being brought in for funerals.

“We have already begun cremations, but we can only handle 18 bodies a day. We are overwhelmed and are asking other cites to help us deal with bodies. We only have one crematorium in town,” Katsuhiko Abe, an official in Soma, told The Associated Press.

While the official death toll rose to nearly 1,900, the discovery of the washed-up bodies and other reports of deaths suggest the true number is much higher. In Miyagi, the police chief has said 10,000 people are estimated to have died in his province alone.

The outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, told reporters Monday that the disaster was “punishment from heaven” because Japanese have become greedy.

Across Japan, most people opt to cremate their dead. With so many bodies, the government on Monday waived a rule requiring permission first from local authorities before cremation or burial to speed up funerals, said Health Ministry official Yukio Okuda.

“The current situation is so extraordinary, and it is very likely that crematoriums are running beyond capacity,” said Okuda. “This is an emergency measure. We want to help quake-hit people as much as we can.”

Friday’s double tragedy has caused unimaginable deprivation for people of this industrialized country — Asia’s richest — which hasn’t seen such hardship since World War II. In many areas there is no running water, no power and four- to five-hour waits for gasoline. People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes

AP/Kyodo News

“People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming,” said Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate prefecture, one of the hardest hit.

Sato said deliveries of food and other supplies were just 10 percent of what is needed. Body bags and coffins were running so short that the government may turn to foreign funeral homes for help, he said.

“We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don’t have enough,” he said. “We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It’s just overwhelming.”

The pulverized coast has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since Friday, the latest one a 6.2 magnitude quake that was followed by a new tsunami scare Monday.

As sirens wailed, soldiers abandoned their search operations and told residents of the devastated shoreline in Soma, the worst hit town in Fukushima prefecture, to run to safety.

They barked out orders: “Find high ground! Get out of here!” Several soldiers were seen leading an old woman up a muddy hillside. The warning turned out to be a false alarm and interrupted the efforts of search parties who arrived in Soma for the first time since Friday to dig out bodies.

Ambulances stood by and body bags were laid out in an area cleared of debris, as firefighters used hand picks and chain saws to clear a jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled power lines and household goods.

Ships were flipped over near roads, a half-mile (a kilometer) inland. Officials said one-third of the city of 38,000 people was flooded and thousands were missing.

Though Japanese officials have refused to speculate on how high the death toll could rise, an expert who dealt with the 2004 Asian tsunami offered a dire outlook.

“It’s a miracle really, if it turns out to be less than 10,000” dead, said Hery Harjono, a senior geologist with the Indonesian Science Institute, who was closely involved with the aftermath of the earlier disaster that killed 230,000 people — of which only 184,000 bodies were found.

He drew parallels between the two disasters — notably that many bodies in Japan may have been sucked out to sea or remain trapped beneath rubble as they did in Indonesia’s hardest-hit Aceh province. But he also stressed that Japan’s infrastructure, high-level of preparedness and city planning to keep houses away from the shore could mitigate its human losses.

According to public broadcaster NHK, some 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives. Another 24,000 people are stranded, it said.

One reason for the loss of power is the damage to several nuclear reactors in the area. At one plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, three reactors have lost the ability to cool down. A building holding one of them exploded on Monday. Operators were dumping sea water into all three reactors in a final attempt to cool their superheated containers that faced possible meltdown. If that happens, they could release radioactive material in the air.

Though people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius were ordered to leave over the weekend, authorities told anyone remaining there or in nearby areas to stay inside their homes following the blast.

Military personnel on helicopters returning to ships with the U.S. 7th Fleet registered low-level of radioactive contamination Monday, but were cleared after a scrub-down. As a precaution, the ships shifted to a different area off the coast.

So far, Tokyo Electric Power, the nuclear plant’s operator, is holding off on imposing the rolling blackouts it earlier said it would need but the utility urged people to limit electricity use. To help reduce the power load, many regional train lines were suspended or operating on a limited schedule.

The impact that lack of electricity, damaged roads and railways and ruined plants would have on the world’s third-largest economy helped drag down the share markets on Monday, the first business day since the disasters. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average fell 6.2 percent while the broader Topix index lost 7.5 percent.

To lessen the damage, Japan’s central bank injected 15 trillion yen (US$184 billion) into money markets.

Beyond the stock exchanges, recovering from the disaster is likely to weigh on already debt-burdened Japan, which has barely managed weak growth between slowdowns for 20 years.

Initial estimates put repair costs in the tens of billions of dollars, costs that would likely add to a massive public debt that, at 200 percent of gross domestic product, is the biggest among industrialized nations.

___

Pitman reported from Sendai. Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Soma, Kelly Olsen in Koriyama, Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110314/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake_130

GLOBAL IMPACT

The World From Berlin
Nuclear Disaster ‘Will Have Political Impact as Great as 9/11’

Reuters

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima makes it hard to ignore the vulnurabilities of the technology. It could spell the end of nuclear power, German commentators argue on Monday. The government in Berlin may now cave in to mounting pressure to suspend its 12-year extension of reactor lifetimes, they say.

The nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has led to anxious questions in Germany about the safety of its own nuclear reactors and is putting the government under intense pressure to rethink its decision to extend plant lifetimes by an average of 12 years.

German media commentators across the political spectrum are saying the accident in a highly developed nation such as Japan is further evidence that nuclear power isn’t safe. One commentator in the conservative Die Welt went as far as to liken the global impact of the Fukushima explosions to that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Merkel reversed the plan to stop Nuclear construction.

She argued that nuclear power was needed as “bridge technology” to ensure the supply of affordable power as Germany converts to renewable energy generation. She plans to increase the share of renewable generation to 80 percent by 2050, from a current level of only 16 percent.

A majority of Germans are opposed to nuclear power and the Fukushima accident is becoming a campaign issue ahead of state elections, the most important of which is being held in the conservative-ruled and wealthy state of Baden-Württemberg on March 27. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has held the state since 1953, and a defeat would be a major psychological blow to the chancellor and her party.

PHOTO GALLERY

Photo Gallery: Japan Earthquake Disaster in Pictures

It would also make it harder for her to pass legislation because the opposition parties would gain power in the country’s upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat, which represents the interests of the states and has the right of co-determination on many important laws.

On Monday, support in Merkel’s coalition for extending nuclear lifetimes started to crumble. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the FDP, called for a safety review at all German nuclear plants. Power stations whose cooling systems were found to lack multiple safety levels would have to be switched off “until the situation is totally clear.”

Other members of the coalition have also been calling for a rethink.

German media commentators say Fukushima may force Merkel to shut German reactors down sooner.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The events in Japan, which geographically couldn’t be much further from Germany, will influence politics in this country. They could soon start changing majorities and make governing even harder for the center-right coalition. The decision it made on nuclear power in September 2010 could be its undoing.”

“There are few issues that can fire up people’s emotions and mobilize them politically as much as nuclear power can. That’s not good news for a government that supports nuclear power. Especially ahead of important regional elections, which won’t affect the balance of power in national politics but which could well influence the morale of party workers to preserve that power.”

“It’s not good news because in the end, for example in Baden-Württemberg, it will only take a few percentage points more or less to determine the election outcome. Doubts among the supporters of the conservatives or the FDP could keep a few thousand voters from the ballot boxes — or drive them into the arms of the center-left parties.”

“For Merkel, it is hard to imagine a greater accident at present than the loss of a CDU governor in Baden-Württemberg.”

“The safety precautions (at the Japanese nuclear plant) weren’t just insufficient; the operating company TEPCO systematically breached them, as the government ascertained in 2002. TEPCO falsified security reports in more than 200 cases.”

“Japan is a democracy, but so far the control of the government by the voters has hardly worked. Things only got a little better after the Democratic Party came to power two years ago. Before that, the often incompetent and corrupt governments were never voted out of office. The perestroika that Japan so urgently needs has scarcely begun.”

“The unpopular government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been on the brink of collapse in recent weeks. It seemed paralyzed, distracted, disoriented and divided. Now it has to lead the country through what may be its worst disaster since 1945. Can it? In the Soviet Union the Chernobyl disaster accelerated the downfall of a broken, paralyzed political system.”

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

“It was always said that danger only came from rickety old reactors in former Eastern Bloc states — while conveniently ignoring that Sweden, France or the United States kept on narrowly avoiding maximum credible accidents. The disaster of Fukushima has made clear: There are situations in which even triple safety systems fail.”

“The weak argument offered by the nuclear lobby that Germany isn’t prone to heavy earthquakes and tsunamis doesn’t apply. If a chain of serious events and stupid coincidences cause prolonged power outages, if the access routes are blocked or if the control room is destroyed by a plane crash, German reactors too will overheat. ”

Conservative Die Welt writes:

“The earthquake of March 11 was no terrorist attack. But its political and psychological consequences will be as great as 9/11 because it has shown what a terrorist attack on nuclear plants would look like.”

“The photos of burning buildings being swept away are disturbing enough, but nuclear power makes the decisive difference. The shockwave that went out from Fukushima may have only reached three kilometers in physical terms. But in mental terms it went around the whole world.”

“Chernobyl was a special case. Nuclear energy was viewed with suspicion but it was accepted as long as modern democracies harnessed it with security precautions.”

“That is over now. Faith in redundant, coincidence-proof security precautions has been wiped out by Fukushima. The high-tech democracy Japan has shown what could happen if an Internet attack on German or French nuclear reactors were to happen as it did with the ‘Stuxnet’ program against the Iranian nuclear program. Or if a determined, technologically skilled terrorist group were to seize control of a power station. One knew it before. Seeing it has made the difference.”

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“It seems inappropriate to criticize the information policy of the Japanese government. Some of its statements may seem a bit overly reticent, but one should allow a government the right not to descend into speculation about all the theoretically possible scenarios. People are already being inundated by enough of such speculation.”

“Japan has always been at the forefront of disaster relief efforts in other parts of the world. That is why the country now has at least a moral claim to assistance from its friends. People abroad may find it irritating that the country will probably have to keep on using nuclear power in the future. But this isn’t the time for know-it-all advice. One should imagine what would have happened if a reactor in a country with less rigid safety standards had been subjected to such an earthquake.”

The mass-circulation Bild tabloid writes:

“The nuclear accident is giving even firm supporters of nuclear power cause for thought, because the unthinkable happened in Fukushima. But even if we wanted to, we couldn’t switch off all nuclear reactors overnight. Because the lights would literally go out. The maximum credible accident of Fukushima forces us to check the safety standards of our nuclear power stations. And to think harder about the quickest possible way to get out of nuclear power generation.”

“The Japanese tragedy will dramatically change the debate over nuclear power. But the issue is too serious to start fanning people’s fears in election campaigns. It may be tempting for campaigners to go out hunting for votes with the suffering of the Japanese. But that would be shabby, pitiful and repellent.”

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

“This hasn’t hit a run-down Soviet reactor, a badly constructed Russian plutonium machine which supplied the army with material for their nuclear weapons, as was the case with Chernobyl in 1986. Then and ever since, the builders of nuclear power stations in Europe, North America and Japan boasted that a serious accident could be virtually ruled out thanks to superior Western nuclear technology.”

“Every country — Germany, the US and Japan — claimed to have the world’s best reactors. Everything was secured several times over, all conceivable problems could be handled, all eventualities were prepared for, they said.”

“The disaster at Fushima shows: It’s simply not true.”

“It is unlikely to be a coincidence that it was an old reactor with a design from the 1960s that got into trouble. The technology of this type of plant, which also operates in Germany, is outdated. Its safety level is significantly below that of modern nuclear plants, they wouldn’t get construction approval these days. The accident has reinforced the lessons to be drawn from this: The plants that were originally intended for a lifespan of 40 years must not have their lifetimes extended, as is being done everywhere both in the West and the East — because it yields major profits for the operators.”

“On the contrary: the old reactors in particular must be taken off the grid as soon as possible. Germany realized that more than a decade ago, when the center-left government negotiated the nuclear phaseout with the power companies. For the center-right risk prolongers in Berlin, Fukushima is the writing on the wall, whether they’re ready to realize that or not.”

“The radioactive fallout from Fukushima won’t hit Germany, but the political fallout has already arrived. People are alarmed and there is major uncertainty about ‘peaceful’ nuclear power, not just among diehard anti-nuclear campaigners.”

— David Crossland

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,750810,00.html

Fukushima Fallout: Next Few Days Critical

4:50pm UK, Sunday March 13, 2011

Natalie Fahy and Katie Cassidy, Sky News Online

Nuclear experts have warned the next few days will be crucial in determining exactly how bad the fallout from the Fukushima power plant disaster could be.

They say advanced Japanese engineering at the 40-year-old facility will avoid a Chernobyl-style disaster, but any radiation leak could still have disastrous consequences.

During Friday’s megaquake most of Japan’s 50 nuclear power stations shut down as expected, but at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant the system failed.

A hydrogen blast at its number one reactor has destroyed part of the building but did not prompt a major radiation leak.

However, experts have warned there could be a second explosion at the plant’s number three reactor.

Reactors convert the energy stored in nuclear fuel rods into electricity, and in doing so generate immense heat.

Water is circulated through the reactor core to keep the fuel rods from overheating.

In case of an emergency each power station has a back-up system to keep reactors cool.

But during the quake – which has been upgraded to 9 on the Richter scale – power at the Fukushima facility was lost and the back-up system failed.

Diesel generators should have kicked in to provide emergency cooling, but they were also damaged and coolant stopped circulating.

The remaining water is likely to eventually boil away, exposing the fuel rods.

If a cooling system is not restored, it could lead to what is known as a meltdown – when the core melts and radiation escapes into the atmosphere.

Officials were now pumping seawater into reactor number three to keep its temperature down.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said radiation levels at the Fukushima plant had risen above the safety limit but there was no “immediate threat” to humans.

Chernobyl was a very big accident and this is certainly not on that scale.

Professor Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl tissue bank at Imperial College London

Despite this, a 12m exclusion zone has been set up around the facility and some 140,000 people have been moved from the area.

Evacuees were being tested for radiation at screening centres and authorities prepared to distribute iodine to protect people from any radioactive exposure.

Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl tissue bank at Imperial College London, explained why iodine is needed in the body.

“The thyroid actually takes up iodine to make the thyroid hormones. It remains in the gland and the tissues in the thyroid,” she said.

“It is important to get stable iodine into the thyroid gland to prevent the uptake of radioactive iodine.

“It is extremely unlikely there will be a significant release (of radioactive iodine from the Fukushima plant).”

Nuclear Consultant John Large On Fukushima Fears

In small doses, such as during an X-ray, radiation causes no harm to humans.

But if radioactive particles should enter the body in large doses, health risks range from vomiting, hair loss and in extreme cases, cancer.

But Professor Thomas said the Japanese appeared to be monitoring the situation closely and taking precautionary measures.

“We won’t see any problems from this reactor. The release is tiny and likely to remain so, so I don’t think we need to worry,” she said.

“Chernobyl was a very big accident and this is certainly not on that scale.

“You need quite a large release of radioactive iodine to do any significant damage.”

LP-Chernobyl

Chernobyl: The site of the world’s worst nuclear accident

In 1986, the explosion of reactor number four at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant was the world’s worst nuclear incident, immediately contaminating 200 people and killing 32 within three months.

Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have suffered the after-effects of the leak.

The accident was only revealed after a giant radioactive cloud was registered moving across northern Europe.

It was marked at the maximum level seven on the IAEA’s scale of nuclear accidents.

Further contamination was reported from Chernobyl in 1995 during the removal of fuel from one of the plant’s reactors.

Professor Robin Grimes, from the Centre for Nuclear Engineering, told Sky News the Chernobyl plant was an old Russian design which had a completely different structure to Fukushima.

L-Three-Mile-Nuclear-Plant

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania

“The plants in Japan are light water reactors so they work on a very different principle,” he said.

“The type of problems that one might anticipate will be quite different to Chernobyl.”

He added that the Fukushima incident was more on the scale of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which was registered at five.

Then, 140,000 people were evacuated after the reactor’s core suffered a partial meltdown.

Although there was contamination within the plant, there was none outside and no casualties.

Japan has experienced the only two deadly nuclear accidents since Chernobyl – one in Tokaimura in 1999 which killed two workers and another in Mihama in 2004 which resulted in four deaths.

Tokaimura is Japan’s worst nuclear accident to date, exposing more than 600 people to radiation.

http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Video-Fukushima-Nuclear-Fallout-Fears-After-Blast-At-Reactor-Number-One/Article/201103215950994?lpos=World_News_Right_Promo_Region_1&lid=ARTICLE_15950994_Video%3A_Fukushima_Nuclear_Fallout_Fears_After_Blast_At_Reactor_Number_One

Fukushima DAY 3 – Downwind from Destruction

Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown, Aftershocks & Fallout


Nuclear Plant Designer Says Japanese Government Suppressing Scale Of Crisis

BBC News
Sunday, March 13, 2011

A former nuclear power plant designer has said Japan is facing an extremely grave crisis and called on the government to release more information, which he said was being suppressed. Masashi Goto told a news conference in Tokyo that one of the reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant was “highly unstable”, and that if there was a meltdown the “consequences would be tremendous”. He said such an event might be very likely indeed. So far, the government has said a meltdown would not lead to a sizeable leak of radioactive materials.

Japan races to avert multiple nuclear meltdowns

ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI
Associated Press
March 13, 2011

(AP:KORIYAMA, Japan) Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns and more than 170,000 people evacuated the quake- and tsunami-savaged northeastern coast where fears spread over possible radioactive contamination.

Nuclear plant operators were frantically trying to keep temperatures down in a series of nuclear reactors _ including one where officials feared a partial meltdown could be happening Sunday _ to prevent the disaster from growing worse.

Kaspersky Lab E-Store

Radiation Increases as Cooling Systems Fail at Fukushima Plant in Japan

Tsuyoshi Inajima and Yuji Okada
Bloomberg
March 13, 2011

Japanese officials battling to prevent a potential meltdown at a nuclear power station said an explosion was possible at a second reactor building after the plant’s cooling system failed.

Water levels temporarily fell at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant 135 miles north of Tokyo, raising the possibility of a hydrogen explosion, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said in Tokyo today.

Asia’s largest utility is battling to prevent a meltdown of two reactors at the nuclear power station by flooding them with water and boric acid to eliminate the potential for a catastrophic release of radiation into the atmosphere.

Monster aftershock could strike within days

Sydney Morning Herald
March 13, 2011

NORTH-EASTERN Japan can expect another monster earthquake large enough to trigger a tsunami within days, the head of the Australian Seismological Centre says.

The director, Kevin McCue, said there had been more than 100 smaller quakes since Friday, but a larger aftershock was likely.

”Normally they happen within days,” he said. ”The rule of thumb is that you would expect the main aftershock to be one magnitude smaller than the main shock, so you would be expecting a 7.9.

Japan Fears Second Reactor Blast

BBC News
Sunday, March 13, 2011

There is a risk of a second explosion at the quake-hit Fukushima power station, Japanese officials have said.

However, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said the facility could withstand the impact and the nuclear reactor itself would not be damaged.

Another reactor at Fukushima nuke plant loses cooling functions

Kyodo News
March 13, 2011

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday another reactor of its quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plants had lost its cooling functions, while at least 15 people at a nearby hospital were found to have been exposed to radioactivity.

The utility supplier notified the government early Sunday morning that the No. 3 reactor at the No. 1 Fukushima plant had lost the ability to cool the reactor core. The reactor is now in the process of releasing radioactive steam, according to top government spokesman Yukio Edano.

U.S. West Coast in Path of Fallout

“If There Were a Reactor Meltdown or Major Leak at Fukushima, the Radioactive Cloud Would Likely be Blown Out … Towards the US West Coast”

Washington’s Blog
March 13, 2011

Agence-France Presse notes:

California is closely monitoring efforts to contain leaks from a quake-damaged Japanese nuclear plant, a spokesman said Saturday, as experts said radiation could be blown out across the Pacific.

Quake moved Japan coast 8 feet; shifted Earth’s axis

Ken Voigt
CNN
March 12, 2011

The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis.

“At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass,” said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Tsunami warning center raises magnitude of Japan quake to 9.1

Ken Kobayahshi
Honolulu Star-Advertiser
March 12, 2011

The Japan earthquake was the fourth most powerful ever recorded with a magnitude of 9.1, twice more powerful than the initial estimate of 8.9, Gerard Fryer, geophysicist of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said this morning.

Three others that were more powerful since the late 1800s when seismometers started measuring ground motions were in 9.5 in Chile in 1960, 9.2 in Alaska in 1964 and 9.1 in Sumatra in 2004, according to Fryer.

In this handout image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), model runs from the Center for Tsunami Research at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory show the expected wave heights of the tsunami as it travels across the Pacific basin March 11, 2011. The largest wave heights are expected near the earthquake epicenter, off Japan. The wave will decrease in height as it travels across the deep Pacific but grow taller as it nears coastal areas. In general, as the energy of the wave decreases with distance, the near shore heights will also decrease (e.g., coastal Hawaii will not expect heights of that encountered in coastal Japan).

http://www.infowars.com/tracking-page-japans-nuclear-meltdown-aftershocks-fallout/

Shirakawa, Japan (CNN) — Japanese authorities are operating on the presumption that possible meltdowns are under way at two nuclear reactors, a government official said Sunday, adding that there have been no indications yet of hazardous emissions of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

The attempts to avert a possible nuclear crisis, centered around the Fukushima Daiichi facility in northeast Japan, came as rescuers frantically scrambled to find survivors following the country’s strongest-ever earthquake and a devastating tsunami that, minutes later, brought crushing walls of water that wiped out nearly everything in their paths.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters there is a “possibility” of a meltdown at the plant’s No. 1 reactor, adding, “It is inside the reactor. We can’t see.” He then added that authorities are also “assuming the possibility of a meltdown” at the facility’s No. 3 reactor.

A meltdown is a catastrophic failure of the reactor core, with a potential for widespread radiation release.

The efforts to control the temperature of atomic material, by pumping in sea water and boron, are taking place at the same facility where four were hurt late Saturday in an explosion. Edano said only a “minor level” of radiation has been released into the environment — saying it all came from a controlled release of radioactive steam, insisting there have been no leaks.

“We do not believe it is harmful to human health,” he said.

About 180,000 people are being evacuated from within 10 to 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles) of the Daiichi plant — which is in addition to the thousands that have already been taken away who live closer by. More than 30,000 more people were being evacuated from their homes within 10 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiini nuclear facility located in the same prefecture.

The news of the possible meltdowns came as rescue efforts resumed Sunday morning in areas devastated by the 8.9-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami, which unleashed a wall of seawater that decimated entire neighborhoods.

Rescuers dug through mud and rubble to find the buried, both alive and dead. Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said more than 3,000 people have been rescued, according to the nation’s Kyodo News Agency, some of them plucked from collapsed homes, muddy water and burning debris.

Police wearing protective clothing and respirators head towards the the nuclear plant in Minamisouma City, Fukushima Prefecture yesterday

While the official death toll from Japan’s National Police Agency was at 763, with 639 missing and 1,419 people injured. The actual toll is thought to be much higher, with Japanese public broadcaster NHK reporting more than 900 dead and Kyodo News Agency saying the death toll could top 1,800.

The number is expected to rise as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas. In one coastal town alone — Minamisanriku, in Myagi Prefecture — some 9,500 people, half the town’s population, were unaccounted for, Kyodo reported.

With most stores and gas stations closed, a main task for many in the hardest-hit areas Sunday morning was getting by — and, in some cases, getting out. Scores lined up at the few gas stations, drug stores and grocery stores that had opened, with the shelves largely empty amid the rush to get food and the difficulty in restocking it.

They also braved an seemingly endless barrage of aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey reported more than 140 such quakes — magnitude 4.5 and higher, including a 6.2-magnitude quake just before 10:30 a.m. Sunday — in, near or off of the east coast of the Japanese island.

Friday’s quake was centered about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Sendai. The city, with a population of about a million, is located in a farming region already battling youth population losses to big cities, leaving aging residents struggling to keep up with the global economy.

While there was little visible damage in that city, the devastation — most of it caused by the tsunami, which reached several miles inland — was readily apparent in coastal areas.

In the city of Shirakawa, south of Sendai, rescuers dug through rubble with shovels to try to reach 13 neighbors trapped when the earth opened up and swallowed their homes.

Relatives and friends stood in the cold, with temperatures near freezing overnight, quietly watching, praying and waiting. Others wept.

In other affected areas, military choppers plucked people from rooftops. In some cases, rescuers trudged in muddy water, carrying survivors on their backs. Weary, mud-spattered residents wandered through streets filled with crumpled cars and other debris.

Meanwhile, millions more around Japan were dealing with other repurcussions of Friday’s quake.

Kaspersky Lab E-Store

The quake disrupted rail service and affected air travel. Flight cancellations left at least 23,000 people stranded in two Tokyo airports, Kyodo said. Departing and arriving flights resumed Saturday. Limited rail service also was back in operation Saturday.

Tokyo’s Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea will close for 10 days, Kyodo News Agency reported, one of a host of closings, cancellations and other disruptions in the quake’s aftermath.

About 2.5 million households — just over 4% of the total in Japan — were without electricity Sunday, according to Fujisaki, the nation’s U.S. ambassador. This marks a steep drop from the previous number, when 6 million households had no power.

A desire to conserve power prompted decisions to turn off lights Saturday at a host of landmarks all around Japan — some of them hundreds of miles from the main quake’s epicenter, like the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo, and Bay Bridge in Yokohama, the Kyodo News Agency reported.

Japan plans to dispatch 100,000 members of its Self-Defense Forces to the quake-ravaged region — double the previous number — Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Sunday, according to the Kyodo News Agency.

Japan’s government also has made a formal request for U.S.aid, including military support, and full planning for deployment is in effect, with the U.S. military in Japan taking the lead, according to Sgt. Maj. Stephen Valley with U.S. Forces Japan.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, along with a guided-missile cruiser and destroyer ship, arrived off Japan’s coast Sunday morning to support Japanese forces in disaster relief operations, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has sent two search and rescue teams, from Virginia and California. Those teams, of about 150 people and 12 rescue dogs trained to find survivors, were expected to arrive Sunday morning and immediately begin working alongside Japanese and international teams.

At least 48 other countries and the European Union also have offered relief to Japan, and supplies and personnel are already on the way.

The quake was the latest in a series around Japan last week.

On Wednesday, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Honshu, the country’s meteorological agency said. Early Thursday, an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.3 struck off the same coast.

Friday’s quake is the strongest earthquake in recorded history to hit Japan, according to U.S. Geologic Survey records that date to 1900.

The world’s largest recorded quake took place in Chile on May 22, 1960, with a magnitude of 9.5, the USGS said.

CNN’s Tom Watkins, Anna Coren, Kyung Lah, Paula Hancocks, Brian Walker, Kevin Voigt and Sean Morris contributed to this report.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/12/japan.quake/index.html?hpt=T1&iref=BN1

By ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
Eric Talmadge And Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press – 2 hrs 37 mins ago

KORIYAMA, Japan – The U.N. nuclear agency says Japan has declared a state of emergency at another earthquake-affected nuclear plant where higher-than-permitted levels of radioactivity were measured.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Japan informed it that the source of the radioactivity at the Onagawa power plant is being investigated. It said all three reactors at the plant are under control.

Japan also said authorities at another plant have resorted to using sea water to cool a second reactor in an attempt to prevent a meltdown.

Japan said earlier attempts to cool the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had failed. Sea water is also being used to cool the plant’s No. 1 reactor.

Sea water is corrosive and is being used as a last resort.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE!!!!

KORIYAMA, Japan (AP) — Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns and more than 170,000 people evacuated the quake- and tsunami-savaged northeastern coast where fears spread over possible radioactive contamination.

Nuclear plant operators were frantically trying to keep temperatures down in a series of nuclear reactors — including one where officials feared a partial meltdown could be happening Sunday — to prevent the disaster from growing worse.

AFP/Yomiuri Shimbun

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also said Sunday that a hydrogen explosion could occur at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, the latest reactor to face a possible meltdown. That follows a blast the day before in the power plant’s Unit 1, and operators attempted to prevent a meltdown there by injecting sea water into it.

“At the risk of raising further public concern, we cannot rule out the possibility of an explosion,” Edano said. “If there is an explosion, however, there would be no significant impact on human health.”

More than 170,000 people had been evacuated as a precaution, though Edano said the radioactivity released into the environment so far was so small it didn’t pose any health threats.

“First I was worried about the quake,” Kenji Koshiba, a construction worker who lives near the plant. “Now I’m worried about radiation.” He spoke at an emergency center in Koriyama town near the power plant in Fukushima.

The French Embassy urged its citizens Sunday to leave the area around Tokyo — 170 miles (270 kilometers) from Fukushima Dai-ichi — in case the crisis deepened and a “radioactive plume” headed for the area around the capital. The statement acknowledged that the possibility was looking unlikely.

Edano said none of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors was near the point of complete meltdown, and he was confident of escaping the worst scenarios.

A complete meltdown — the collapse of a power plant’s ability to keep temperatures under control — could release uranium and dangerous contaminants into the environment and pose major, widespread health risks.

Up to 160 people, including 60 elderly patients and medical staff who had been waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe, and 100 others evacuating by bus, might have been exposed to radiation, said Ryo Miyake, a spokesman from Japan’s nuclear agency. The severity of their exposure, or if it had reached dangerous levels, was not clear. They were being taken to hospitals.

Edano said operators were trying to cool and decrease the pressure in the Unit 3 reactor, just as they had the day before at Unit 1.

“We’re taking measures on Unit 3 based on a similar possibility” of a partial meltdown, Edano said.

Japan struggled with the nuclear crisis as it tried to determine the scale of the Friday disasters, when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in the country’s recorded history, was followed by a tsunami that savaged its northeastern coast with breathtaking speed and power.

More than 1,400 people were killed and hundreds more were missing, according to officials, but police in one of the worst-hit areas estimated the toll there alone could eventually top 10,000.

The scale of the multiple disasters appeared to be outpacing the efforts of Japanese authorities to bring the situation under control more than two days after the initial quake.

Rescue teams were struggling to search hundreds of miles (kilometers) of devastated coastline, and hundreds of thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers cut off from rescuers and aid. At least 1.4 million households had gone without water since the quake, and food and gasoline were quickly running out across the region. Large areas of the countryside were surrounded by water and unreachable. Some 2 million households were without electricity.

Japanese Trade Minister Banri Kaieda warned that the region was likely to face further blackouts, and power would be rationed to ensure supplies to essential facilities.

The government doubled the number of troops pressed into rescue and recovery operations to about 100,000 from 51,000, as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the country. Hundreds have hit since the initial temblor.

Unit 3 at the Fukushima plant is one of three reactors there that had automatically shut down and lost cooling functions necessary to keep fuel rods working properly due to a power outage from the quake. The facility’s Unit 1 is also in trouble, but Unit 2 has been less affected.

On Saturday, an explosion destroyed the walls of Unit 1 as operators desperately tried to prevent it from overheating and melting down.

Without power, and with its valves and pumps damaged by the tsunami, authorities resorted to drawing sea water mixed with boron in an attempt to cool the unit’s overheated uranium fuel rods. Boron disrupts nuclear chain reactions.

The move likely renders the 40-year-old reactor unusable, said a foreign ministry official briefing reporters. Officials said the sea water will remain inside the unit, possibly for several months.

Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of energy, told reporters that the sea water was a desperate measure.

“It’s a Hail Mary pass,” he said.

He said that the success of using sea water and boron to cool the reactor will depend on the volume and rate of their distribution. He said the dousing would need to continue nonstop for days.

Another key, he said, was the restoration of electrical power, so that normal cooling systems can operate.

Edano said the cooling operation at Unit 1 was going smoothly after the sea water was pumped in.

Operators released slightly radioactive air from Unit 3 on Sunday, while injecting water into it hoping to reduce pressure and temperature to prevent a possible meltdown, Edano said.

He said radiation levels just outside the plant briefly rose above legal limits, but since had declined significantly. Also, fuel rods were exposed briefly, he said, indicating that coolant water didn’t cover the rods for some time. That would have contributed further to raising the temperature in the reactor vessel.

At an evacuation center in Koriyama, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the troubled reactors and 125 miles (190 kilometers) north of Tokyo, medical experts had checked about 1,500 people for radiation exposure in an emergency testing center, an official said.

On Sunday, a few dozen people waited to be checked in a collection of blue tents set up in a parking lot outside a local gymnasium. Fire engines surrounded the scene, with their lights flashing.

Many of the gym’s windows were shattered by the quake, and glass shards littered the ground.

A steady flow of people — the elderly, schoolchildren and families with babies — arrived at the center, where they were checked by officials wearing helmets, surgical masks and goggles.

Officials placed five reactors, including Units 1 and 3 at Dai-ichi, under states of emergency Friday after operators lost the ability to cool the reactors using usual procedures.

An additional reactor was added to the list early Sunday, for a total of six — three at the Dai-ichi complex and three at another nearby complex. Local evacuations have been ordered at each location. Japan has a total of 55 reactors spread across 17 complexes nationwide.

Officials began venting radioactive steam at Fukushima Dai-ichi’s Unit 1 to relieve pressure inside the reactor vessel, which houses the overheated uranium fuel.

Concerns escalated dramatically Saturday when that unit’s containment building exploded.

Officials were aware that the steam contained hydrogen and were risking an explosion by venting it, acknowledged Shinji Kinjo, spokesman for the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, but chose to do so because they needed to keep circulating cool water on the fuel rods to prevent a meltdown.



Officials insisted there was no significant radioactive leak after the explosion.

If a full-scale meltdown were to occur, experts interviewed by The Associated Press said melted fuel would eat through the bottom of the reactor vessel, then through the floor of the containment building. At that point, the uranium and dangerous byproducts would start escaping into the environment.

Eventually, the walls of the reactor vessel — six inches (15 centimeters) of stainless steel — would melt into a lava-like pile, slump into any remaining water on the floor, and potentially cause an explosion that would enhance the spread of radioactive contaminants.

If the reactor core became exposed to the outside, officials would likely began pouring cement and sand over the entire facility, as was done at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine, Peter Bradford, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told reporters.

Another expert, physicist Ken Bergeron, told reporters that as a result of such a meltdown the surrounding land would be off-limits for a long time and “a lot of first responders would die.”

___

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Tomoko A. Hosaka in Tokyo, Jeff Donn in Boston and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110313/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake_nuclear_crisis_12

Japan’s nuclear nightmare: Fears of second explosion at quake-hit N-plant as exclusion zone stretches to 13 miles

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 6:16 PM on 13th March 2011

* Second nuclear power plant now in state of emergency
* Exclusion zone widened to 13 miles at Fukushima as radiation levels rise
* Reactor 3 has lost its cooling system forcing officials to use sea water
* 170,000 people evacuated from area near plant
* Up to 160 people so far exposed to radiation

Japan’s nuclear crisis was growing today amid the threat of multiple meltdowns, as more than 170,000 people were evacuated from the quake- and tsunami-savaged northeastern coast where police fear more than 10,000 people may have already died.

A partial meltdown was already likely to be under way at one nuclear reactor, a top official said, and operators were frantically trying to keep temperatures down at the power plant’s other units as fears of a second explosion at the facility grew.

As the exclusion zone around the facility was widened to more than 13 miles today, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that a hydrogen explosion could occur at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, the reactor that could be melting down.

That would follow a blast the day before in the power plant’s Unit 1, as operators attempted to prevent a meltdown by injecting sea water into it.
Smoke rising from the Fukushima Dai-ichi number one nuclear plant after a blast in Unit 1 on Friday

Smoke rising from the Fukushima Dai-ichi number one nuclear plant after a blast in Unit 1 on Friday
The damaged roof of reactor number 1 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant after an explosion that blew off the upper part of the structure

The damaged roof of reactor number 1 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant after an explosion that blew off the upper part of the structure

Today a second power plant was also in a state of emergency as a result of the earthquake.

A cooling pump stopped working at Tokai Number Two plant, located about 75 miles north of Tokyo, the site of a nuclear accident in 1999.

‘At the risk of raising further public concern, we cannot rule out the possibility of an explosion,’ Edano said speaking about Fukushima.

‘If there is an explosion, however, there would be no significant impact on human health.’
Map of Japan locating nuclear facilities and radius of a nuclear plant where a explosion occurred on Saturday

More than 170,000 people had been evacuated as a precaution, though Edano said the radioactivity released into the environment so far was so small it didn’t pose any health threats.

A complete meltdown – the collapse of a power plant’s systems and its ability to keep temperatures under control – could release uranium and dangerous contaminants into the environment and pose major, widespread health risks.

Up to 160 people, including 60 elderly patients and medical staff who had been waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe, and 100 others evacuating by bus, might have been exposed to radiation, said Ryo Miyake, a spokesman from Japan’s nuclear agency.

More…

* Day the Earth moved: How the earthquake tilted the world’s axis by 25cm (and could even cost us a microsecond a day)
* The town that drowned: Fresh pictures from the port where 9,500 people are missing after it was swept away by the megaquake
* The tottering towers of Tokyo: Dramatic videos show the moment the earthquake struck
* Moment we feared another Chernobyl: Thousands undergo radioactive screening after explosion in nuclear power station

Workers in protective clothing were scanning people arriving at evacuation centres for radioactive exposure. Three workers have so far been treated for radiation sickness after the explosion in the reactor building and locals have been offered iodine to help protect against radiation exposure.

Edano told reporters that a partial meltdown in Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant was ‘highly possible’.

Asked whether a partial meltdown had occurred, Edano said that ‘because it’s inside the reactor, we cannot directly check it but we are taking measures on the assumption’ that it had.

Japan struggled with the nuclear crisis as it tried to determine the scale of the Friday disasters, when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in the country’s recorded history, was followed by a tsunami that savaged its northeastern coast with breathtaking speed and power.

At least 1,000 people were killed – including some 200 bodies discovered today along the coast – and 678 were missing, according to officials, but police in one of the worst-hit areas estimated the toll there alone could eventually top 10,000.

The scale of the multiple disasters appeared to be outpacing the efforts of Japanese authorities to bring the situation under control more than two days after the initial quake.

Rescue teams were struggling to search hundreds of miles of devastated coastline, and thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centres cut off from rescuers and aid.

At least a million households had gone without water since the quake, and food and gasoline were quickly running out across the region. Large areas of the countryside were surrounded by water and unreachable. Some 2.5 million households were without electricity.
Officials in protective gear check today for signs of radiation on children who are from the evacuation area near the nuclear plant

Officials in protective gear check today for signs of radiation on children who are from the evacuation area near the nuclear plant

Japanese Trade Minister Banri Kaeda warned that the region was likely to face further blackouts, and power would be rationed to ensure supplies to essential facilities.

The government doubled the number of troops pressed into rescue and recovery operations to about 100,000 from 51,000, as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the country. Hundreds have hit since the initial temblor.

Unit 3 at the Fukushima plant is one of the three reactors that had automatically shut down and lost cooling functions necessary to keep fuel rods working properly due to power outage from the quake. The facility’s Unit 1 is also in trouble, but Unit 2 has been less affected.

Yesterday, an explosion destroyed the walls of Unit 1 as operators desperately tried to prevent it from overheating and melting down.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365781/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-Fears-second-explosion-nuclear-power-plant-exclusion-zone-facility-widened.html

Latest BBC News coverage

* A large explosion has occurred at the Fukushima No. I nuclear power plant in north-eastern Japan, close to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake. Officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged, and sea water is being pumped in to cool it. But there are now problems with a second reactor at the same plant. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the area
* A mammoth relief operation has swung into action to help those affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The military has mobilised thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships
* Officials say more than 1,300 people are thought to have died, with fears that the death toll could rise significantly. One of the worst-hit areas was the port city of Sendai
* Police say 300,000 people have fled their homes, and there are reports that whole villages have been swept away
* The 8.9 magnitude tremor has been confirmed as the fifth strongest to occur anywhere in the world in the past 100 years. More than 50 aftershocks – many of them more than magnitude 6.0 – have also been reported

*reporters: Aidan Lewis, Victoria King, Peter Jackson, Philippa Fogarty, Joe Boyle and Patrick Jackson
* All times in GMT

We’re told not to breathe the air – it’s scary’

David McNeill ventures out from the capital towards Fukushima, where an explosion hit the power plant. He made it as far as Iwaki city

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Tokyo is crawling unsteadily back on its feet. Its buildings are intact, its vast transport network is creaking back to life, cellphones are working again – patchily. Planes land in the main international airports, but traffic crawls through the streets. The government projects weary control from the centre of the vast city

But the country outside the capital, along the Pacific coast to the northeast, has been knocked flat on its back. Battered by tsunamis, rocked by a terrifying string of aftershocks, thousands of people bed down for the second night in makeshift refugee centres in schools and sports centres.

The world’s media has begun descending on the capital, looking to tell this story. And 300 kilometres north of Tokyo comes the biggest story of all: a fire at a nuclear plant that could potentially rival the twin nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Getting there, over roads buckled and warped by Friday’s huge quake, is an ordeal. With two of my colleagues, we rent a car and begin the long journey through Tokyo’s clogged traffic, then on to almost empty highways toward Iwaki city in Fukushima Prefecture, as close to the plant as we can get. As we drive, we listen to live reports on the state broadcaster NHK, which says the Fukushima No 1 plant has started to go into meltdown.
Related articles

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* Fears of radioactive leak after blast rips through complex
* Q&A: The day the Earth moved, and a nation’s east coast shifted by 2.4 metres
* Japan looks for market stability after quake
* Hamish McRae: The cost of catastrophe and unrest is huge in both human and economic terms
* UK team joins Japan earthquake rescue efforts
* Search the news archive for more stories

It is terrifying news, filtered through the oddly emotionless tones of a professional translator. It’s the first time the reactor core of a nuclear plant has melted in Japan, the announcer informs us. An explosion has torn the roof from the complex. Radiation has leaked into the atmosphere. Twenty thousand people within 10km (6.2 miles) of the plant have been told to evacuate. At teatime, the Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, announces to millions of Japanese that the safety perimeter has been extended to 20km.

Japan’s technological confidence has been shattered by quakes before. In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake, with its famous images of toppled highways and collapsed buildings, killed 5,000 people, injured more than 400,000 and brought global humiliation to a country proud of its construction prowess. Four years ago, another huge quake struck almost underneath the world’s largest nuclear power plant in Niigata, sparking fires, leaks and a crippling shutdown. Officials were forced to admit that they had not known about the fault underneath the 8,200MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

Most people want to believe Mr Kan when he says that the government is working hard this time to make sure “not a single resident will suffer any effects” from the radiation. But not Yoshi Watanabe, who lives with his wife and two young children about 135km from the Fukushima plant. “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he says. “They should extend the perimeter further, but they can’t because they can’t handle that scale of evacuation.”

The sun sinks behind the highway. We pass a convoy of fire engines and truckloads of self-defence force troops, on their way to the coast to help rebuild devastated villages. At an almost deserted service station, Chieko Matsumoto stands waiting for customers as NHK flickers live in the corner. The power plant is an hour away. “Not far enough,” she says. “We’ve been told not to go outside and breathe the air, to stay here and watch the TV. It’s just so scary.”

In pitch darkness we enter Iwaki City. Apart from a handful of cars, the streets are deserted. Restaurants and bars have been closed. The blinds have been pulled down in the local Denny’s. Even the 7-Eleven convenience store has shut its doors.

We spot a schoolgirl waking quickly in the dark. “I’m on my way to pick up my mother,” she tells us. “We’re going to the refugee centre. We’ve been told to stay indoors and not breath in the radioactivity.”

Then she hurries off.

The local municipal gymnasium has been converted into a makeshift shelter. Dozens of people are lying on futons and blankets, some clearly exhausted. A truck arrives bringing pot noodles, water and toilet roll.

“It’s our second night here,” says Tsukase Yoshida, 33. He fled with his family after the first tremors on Friday, which were so strong they knocked him off his feet. “Now this,” he says. “We heard rumours about the radiation before it was announced on the radio. My family are so tired.”

In a corner, Shun Moue, 22, and her boyfriend, Sugunori Sakuma, 24, cuddle to keep warm. “We saw the news of the plant leak on TV,” says Moue. “The quake was terrible, but I worry more about the plant. We get only limited information. Are they really going to be able to make it safe?”

Sakuma shrugs his shoulders. “They’re doing their best,” he says

On the radio, experts speculate on the worst-case scenario at the plant 30km up the coast. “If there’s no time to escape, I’ll just go home and lock myself in,” says Moue. “There probably wouldn’t be time to run away.”

Some day they plan to marry, perhaps have children. Will they feel safe raising them here? Sakuma frowns. “This is where my family is from,” he says. “Where else would I go?”

People inside the centre begin drifting off to sleep. News arrives that the container inside the reactor was undamaged in the explosion and that radiation levels are falling. Tiny and frail, Yoshiko Fukaya, 79, is wrapped in blankets that rise and fall with her breathing. She shrugs as she is told the news. “There’ll be something else,” she says. “There always is.”

The bloggers’ response: ‘I hope I won’t witness a Japanese Chernobyl’

“I am in Ichinoseki. The ground continues to shake quite strongly. The shops are all shut, there are no traffic lights working. However, people are moving slowly and taking it in turns to cross roads, which is very impressive! Our grandparents re-built Japan after the war and the growth was considered a miracle. We will work to re-build Japan in the same way again. Don’t give up Japan! Don’t give up Tohoku!”

Blog from a “Japanese celebrity”:

http://ameblo.jp/mikio-date/entry-10828418807.html

“I have bought enough bottled water … to last for three or four days before I need to start drinking urine …. The ATM is working again so I’ve got enough money. We are expecting the tectonic plates to go mental again any time soon. Indeed, we have had many aftershocks over the last day – about 30, as of three hours ago. In short, us Tokyoites are doing quite well compared to poor old Sendai. All the dodgy little fishing boats that give the city its character have either been destroyed or just vanished. I’m sad to say all the people in them won’t be seen alive again.”

http://remarkabletravels.com/

“As I write this the shaking comes and goes a bit, but so small compared to the ones yesterday that I hardly even pay attention. On the whole, it was a quite good “wake up call” for me to start stocking up on supplies and get some safety plans in order for the family in case the next time, the epicentre is closer to Tokyo.”

http://foreignsalaryman. blogspot.com/

“There were people queueing outside the supermarket hours before it opened. I managed to buy a box of water but batteries and portable stoves are sold out. The shelves that would normally hold bread and instant noodles are empty. It is only one day since the earthquake but already the way people think is changing. In the supermarket you see people in their twenties with a list in hand buying supplies like water and batteries. Then you see people in their forties buying cup noodles, tins and toilet paper. There are more men in the supermarket than normal.”

Blogger Mirairara (A woman in her twenties)

http://blog.livedoor.jp/mirairara/ archives/2573712.html

“My host mother just informed me that they’re probably going to be turning off all power and water in the Tokyo area to help out the north east so she’s filled the bath tub and brought out extra blankets in preparation of a cold night. I hope I’m not going to be witness to a Japanese Chernobyl. Chiba’s oil refineries caught on fire and now they’re saying that if you go outside, bring an umbrella and raincoat and to cover all your skin in case it rains because the rain will bring over the shit from the refineries and it’ll be trouble if it touches your skin.”

http://weloveme07.blogspot.com/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/were-told-not-to-breathe-the-air-ndash-its-scary-2240509.html

MOMENT BY MOMENT

2352The US navy’s 7th Fleet is assisting with the rescue operation off the coast. A spokesman, Commander Jeff Davies, outlined the fleet’s grim task for the BBC: “We have three destroyers that have joined the other two ships in (USS) Ronald Reagan’s battle group and are conducting at-sea searches of the debris field. A tremendous amount of debris was washed out to sea following the tsunami and they’re going to go through it very carefully and very methodically to make sure that if there are any survivors out there they are rescued, and likewise if there are any human remains that those are recovered.”

2331Janie Eudie’s husband, a US technician, was inside Fukushima No I when the quake struck. She explained what he experienced: “It was panic, a lot of panic going on. They’re used to little quakes while they’re on the job there, but this one was different – the ground started shaking and it was intense and everything was moving. And they knew something different and the local people began to get scared, which they took it from there that this is something that’s way out of the ordinary. And that’s when things started to fall from the ceiling, the glass, all the lights, and he said some of the ceiling and insulation all started falling and the debris was hitting them. And for the safety and all of this, they evacuated and they were just getting out as fast as possible.”

2326The Japanese cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, has been speaking on state TV. He said the third reactor at the Fukushima No. I plant was in danger but attempts were under way for a controlled release of air.

2318US nuclear experts warn that pumping sea water to cool a quake-hit Japanese nuclear reactor is an “act of desperation” that may foreshadow a Chernobyl-like disaster, AFP reports. “The situation has become desperate enough that they apparently don’t have the capability to deliver fresh water or plain water to cool the reactor and stabilise it, and now, in an act of desperation, are having to resort to diverting and using sea water,” said Robert Alvarez, who works on nuclear disarmament at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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2314Niel Bowerman writes: “Yokohama now feels a world away from the devastation of the North. Here the emphasis is on saving energy, so there are fewer lights on the skyline than normal. The aftershocks keep rolling in, but as they are relatively small most people here just exchange a glance and then get on with what they were doing. I feel as though the aftermath has brought a renewed sense of community here. What has really impressed me is the speed at which train lines were checked and services have largely returned to normal. Some sections of track remain down, but you can get most anywhere by public transport again.”
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2313Japan is likely to suffer a temporary economic hit and then enjoy a boost from reconstruction but the cost of rebuilding will worsen its already worryingly high public debt burden, a Reuters analysis piece says. While few expect the damage to exceed that of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. when the economy shrank by 2% before rebounding even further, the concern is that Japan’s economy is much weaker today. It also is weighed down by the largest public debt among advanced economies, double the size of its $5tn gross domestic product.

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2309 David Williams in Tokyo writes: “Despite the severity of the earthquake, housing in Tokyo stood up well. We are still expecting a big aftershock so that kept us on edge through the night. The next problem is the supply of goods. I went to my local supermarket last night at 7pm and many of the shelves were uncharacteristically bare. In particular, water, instant food, batteries and toilet paper. Apparently there will be no deliveries today (usually there are on Sundays) or Monday, so for the time being at least the situation may well get worse.”
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2306Just a reminder for users outside Japan: the time difference with GMT is nine hours, so it is now 0806 local time.

2300The BBC’s Rachel Harvey reports from Sendai: Just passed huge queue for petrol. Lost count after 160 cars. Queue of people lining up outside 7/11 store and water tap in park.

2252Reuters: Operators are preparing to release radioactive steam from the number three reactor at Fukushima No. 1 plant, after the cooling system failed there

2236The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that the two experts it has sent to Japan are specialists in boiling water nuclear reactors, and part of a broader US aid team sent to the disaster zone.

2224A recap: Fukushima has two nuclear plants; Fukushima No. 1, which has six reactors (three of which were offline at the time of the quake) and Fukushima No. 2, which has four reactors.

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2215 Michael Sammler in Akita Prefecture, Japan writes: “Another aftershock just hit my apartment. During the earthquake, at the junior high school where I work, all the students knew what to do. The length of the shaking was unprecedented and after about two minutes of shaking we lost power. Not knowing how long power would be out, no one was sure if using gas to cook was OK or not. The biggest worry was how long, and how much food do we have.”
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2212Some clarification: It is the number three reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant where officials have just announced that the cooling system has failed. This morning’s blast took place at the number one reactor at the same plant. “All the functions to keep cooling water levels in No. 3 reactor have failed at the Fukushima No. 1 plant,” a spokesman for the operator said.

2157More on the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that is off the Japanese coast. With a 3,200-strong crew and 2,480 air personnel on board, the US military says it will serve as a platform for refuelling Japanese and other helicopters involved in rescue efforts onshore.

2145Reuters: The number of people exposed to radiation near Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could reach 160, an official from the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has said. Nine people have shown signs of possible exposure.

2141IAEA Director General Yukia Amano: “The IAEA’s emergency centre is working round the clock to monitor the situation and share information.”

2130AFP: The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it has sent two experts to Japan to help assist local authorities.

2123Reuters: The emergency cooling system is no longer functioning at the Fukushima No. 3 reactor, an official from Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has told journalists.

2114The Japanese Red Cross says it has sent 62 teams including 400 doctors and nurses into the quake-hit area.

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2109 PacificFleet tweets: “USS Ronald Reagan arrived off coast of Japan, expected to provide refuelling support to Japan SDF helos conducting relief ops.”

2055More on evacuations: According to an IAEA statement, 110,000 people have been moved away from Fukushima No. 1 plant. Another 30,000 have been evacuated from a 10km radius around Fukushima No. 2 plant. But full evacuation measures had not been completed.

2042Reuters: The IAEA says it has been told by Japan that 140,000 people have been evacuated from areas around two nuclear plants

2039Ian Hore-Lacy of the World Nuclear Association tells the BBC he believes the situation at the nuclear power plant – where sea water is being used to cool the reactor core – is under control: “The point is that the heat, decay heat from the fuel drops off very rapidly. So after an hour, an hour following the shut down, it’s down to about 2 or 3% I think. And after 24 hours it’s down to half a per cent. So the amount of heat you’ve got to cope with right now is a small fraction of what there was initially.”

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2030 Dominick Okamoto in Tokyo writes: “Transport remained affected today but is getting back to normal, albeit with reduced services. Lots of people seem to be stocking up on essentials and many stores have bare shelves. Many people are just so shocked by the images; it is a strange feeling in Tokyo – we were close enough to be badly shaken by the quake but seem a world away from the devastation that the tsunami has brought.”
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2023Reuters: The IAEA says the operator of the plant has confirmed that the primary containment vessel is intact following this morning’s blast.

2022Reuters: The IAEA says it has been told by Japan that levels of radioactivity near the Fukushima No. 1 plant have fallen in recent hours.

2019Tokyo Disneyland is to close for about 10 days for safety checks, its operator says.

2012 The Bank of Japan is to hold a policy meeting on Monday and has vowed to do its utmost to ensure financial market stability.

1958 More on power supply problems: Tokyo Electric Power Company, one of Japan’s major suppliers, has suggested it could carry out intentional power outages on a rotating basis to tackle the problem, Kyodo reports.

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1944 Twitter user @Kombu_s in Onagawa, Japan says in the Global Voices blog: “Well, I’m alive. The town is dead though, and my rooms are a mess.”

1938More on the effects of the quake around the world: In Peru, the mayor of the town of Pisco says tsunami waves damaged about 300 houses as they swept into the town square – about 400 people spent the night in tents, AFPs reports.

1928Japanese workers in masks and protective clothing are scanning evacuees from the Fukushima area for radiation exposure, Reuters reports. Seventeen-year-old Masanori Ono says: “There is radiation leaking out, and since the possibility (of exposure) is high, it’s quite scary.”

1927Across the Pacific, Chile has reopened its copper-exporting ports and recalled large ships that were sent out to sea to avoid the tsunami, but it warns fishermen to beware of continuing swells and currents, Reuters reports.

1917The lights have been turned off at some of Japan’s landmark buildings including the Tokyo Tower, Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo and Bay Bridge in Yokohama, to help save electricity after the loss of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Kyodo agency reports.

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1847 Brittany Smith in Sendai, Japan writes: “I was teaching at school at the time of the quake, but I have since returned to my apartment. My electricity, gas, and water were shut off all day, but the power has recently turned back on. We’re still getting small quakes off and on here, but nothing nearly as strong as the first few.”
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1829 Chinita in Kyoto writes: “It’s been a really long and hard day for all Japan. Although I live in Kyoto where nothing happened, it’s really depressing. What will be next? How will Japan survive this disaster? Everything feels like a really bad dream.”
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1820The World Health Organisation says the public health risk from Japan’s radiation leak appears to be “probably quite low”: “We understand radiation that has escaped from the plant is very small in amount,” World Health Organisation spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters news agency.

1807If radiation has leaked from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, winds will likely blow it out over the Pacific Ocean, says the French Nuclear Safety Authority: “The wind direction for the time being seems to point the pollution towards the Pacific,” said Andre-Claude Lacoste, speaking in Paris.

1758For those who are in Japan and may be in quake-hit areas, the Japan Times has compiled a page of contact numbers and websites that residents who need information or assistance will find useful.

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1749 Netfluence tweets: “My friends in Japan are struggling to find a way home – they were in a Tokyo hotel when the quake hit. Most mass transit is not working well.”

1739More from that unidentified official at Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on rating the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant on the IAEA scale of 0-7: “Right now we are considering the accident should be rated four. The rating may be changed in accordance with the development of the condition.”

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1731 Marcus Olaoire tweets: “Got word that my friends in Japan, in Sendai are alright. It’s a special type of relief.”

1724For more on the chain of events at the nuclear plant, take a look at a piece by our Environment Correspondent Richard Black which explains in more detail.

1717Rescue teams from several nations are on their way to Japan; the first, from South Korea, touched down about two hours ago. A team from the UK is due to depart later this evening.

1712Meanwhile the latest report from Kyodo news agency puts the official death toll from the disaster at 687, with another 650 people missing. But it is not clear whether this figure includes between 200-300 bodies being transferred to Sendai city.

1705A quick recap: There is continuing concern over the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 reactor after a powerful explosion there early this morning. Japanese officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged and that radiation levels have now fallen. But experts say it is not clear whether the situation is under control.

1652Residents and companies across Japan are being urged to save energy because of supply problems caused by damage to power generation facilities, The Japan Times reports. By noon on Saturday 5.1 million households in northern Japan remained without power, the paper said.

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1640 kobutamama in Tokyo tweets: “My daughter was so calm and strong when the earthquake happened. But now she is so fragile. I am so worried.”

1631Some more: The International Nuclear Event Scale was developed in 1990 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The rating of 4 for the Fukushima plant incident comes from an as yet unidentified official at Japan’s nuclear safety agency, news wires report.

1622More information on that figure: The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was rated 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale; the 1979 Three Mile Island accident was rated 5.

1617AFP: Japan nuclear agency rates nuclear plant accident in Fukushima at 4 on 0-7 international scale.

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1615 Chris Hall in Tokyo writes: “I’m having trouble getting to sleep as there is an aftershock – small but big enough – every 10 minutes or so at the moment. The quake yesterday was the most frightening thing I have experienced. My partner and I ran out into the street and stood with other people from several buildings. Concrete walls bent and flexed as if they were made of rubber and I still can’t believe they didn’t snap or crumble. Near our flat there was a gas leak. My biggest worry is the nuclear plant. And it has been hard to get information.”
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1609The BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Sendai: “It is a very patchy picture – in the centre of the city there is power, traffic on the streets, but the shops are mostly closed and the place feels eerily quiet. If you drive out of the centre, there are areas in complete darkness. There are huge queues at every petrol station that is operating. I spoke to one man who said he had been in that queue for five hours. Now the station is rationing fuel to 20 litres per vehicle.”

1602 US nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione tells CNN the full picture of what it happening at the Fukushima No. 1 reactor has yet to emerge: “The big unanswered question here is whether there’s structural damage to this facility now. We saw the explosion early this morning. Are there other structural damages that may make a meltdown all but inevitable? We don’t have any information from the power company on that.”

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1555 Andrew Coad in Tokyo writes: “A strange hush still hangs over Tokyo with noticeably fewer cars on the roads. Taxis are operating and trains are getting back to normal schedules. Not such a good story in the stores – shopping today for bread, milk and water in several stores and there was none. The shelves are barren of all the key essentials as well as snack foods. Plenty of beer still, though.”
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1549A five-member South Korean rescue team has touched down in Japan, Kyodo says; the first international team to arrive.

1539Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin says Japan has requested more deliveries of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to boost energy supplies: Reuters.

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1531 Paul Ashton in Okayama City, Japan writes: “I have just returned from Kumamoto Island, in the south west of Japan by car. The journey was about 500 km. We passed 50 to 60 Japanese Self-Defence Force vehicles travelling in convoy in the direction of east Japan. The vehicles were carrying huge supplies of water, many large electricity generators, gasoline and large earth moving machinery. The whole country is in shock.”
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1526Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto to attend a G-8 ministers’ summit in Paris next week but cancel trip to Britain: Kyodo.

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1520 Journalist Mark MacKinnon tweets: “Watching Japanese TV, automated alerts warning of yet more aftershocks a regular part of the experience…”

1515Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says Russia will increase LNG supply from reserves on Sakhalin island to Japan if necessary: Reuters.

1511All available personnel, vehicles, aircraft and vessels of Japan’s Self Defence Force have been mobilised for relief efforts, up to a total deployment of 50,000, local media reports.

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1501 Rachel in Narita airport, Tokyo writes: “Right now I’m sitting in Narita airport, where I’ll be spending the night before catching my delayed plane back to Sydney. When the earthquake hit I was right in the middle of Shibuya. At first I thought I was going to faint until I sensed the hush that spread across the square, as all the usual music and traffic noise ceased. Despite my continued shock at the devastation, my overwhelming impression is of the admirable way in which the Japanese people have handled the aftermath.”
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1459At least three residents evacuated from a town near quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 plant have been exposed to radiation, both Kyodo and NHK report.

1454US Ambassador to Japan John Roos says America is “absolutely committed to helping Japan in any way possible”. Air Force personnel and Marines based on the island of Okinawa will be sent to help with the rescue effort.

1450Two bullet train lines have resumed operating, NHK reports, and local train lines in Tokyo are slowly returning to normal.

1443Kyodo News: The four workers injured in the blast at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are conscious and their injuries are not life-threatening.

1432NHK shows images from the centre of Sendai city, which appears to have suffered far less damage than its coastal suburbs.

1427More than 300,000 people have now been evacuated from homes in northern Japan and that number will rise as the government increases the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Kyodo reports.

1422A US navy vessel is loading aid supplies in Singapore and will sail for Japan shortly, NHK reports.

1416In Fukushima residents are lining up in town centres to collect drinking water as helicopters airlift the injured to hospital, Reuters reports.

1401 The BBC’s Rachel Harvey reports: “Stopped at fire station on edge of Sendai. Group of fire fighters said they have been looking for people all day. One small team among many, they said.”

1355 At least 1.4m homes are without water following the quake, according to government officials. 59 water trucks have been sent to the worst-hit areas. Some 3m are without power and utility companies say it will take some time to restore supplies.

1349 A team from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences has been despatched to Fukushima as a precaution, reports NHK. It is reportedly made up of doctors, nurses and other individuals with expertise in dealing with radiation exposure, and has been taken by helicopter to a base 5km from the nuclear plant.

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1344 The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan tweets: “Big aftershock right now. Screen shaking as I type.”

1341 A bit more from Japanese PM Naoto Kan. He says more than 3,000 people have so far been rescued following the quake.

1335 Robert works in the Fukushima district. He contacted to the BBC describing his decision to leave the area: “We have heard that some areas of the prefecture have been evacuated, but we were not asked to leave. We were staying some 90km away from the power plant. But three friends and I decided we would feel a lot safer if we moved further away from the plant. So all four of us drove 45 minutes south, and are now staying in a hotel. I didn’t see any sign of panic on the roads, there seemed to be as much traffic travelling in the opposite direction. Things are disturbing because there is a lack of information. And as a foreigner it’s even harder to work out what is fact and what is hearsay.”

1330A magnitude 6 earthquake hit Fukushima at 2215 (1315GMT) on Saturday, Japan’s NHK reports.

1326The BBC’s Rachel Harvey reports: “Have reached Sendai. Downtown looks OK. Power, traffic moving. Couple of patches of glass damage. Train station is closed – yellow tape across entrance. Stopped at petrol station about 40km outside city – rationing. 20 litres per vehicle.”

1323From Kyodo news: 9,500 people unaccounted for in Miyagi’s Minamisanriku: local gov’t.

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1320 Noriyuki Shikata, from Japanese PM’s office tweets: “TEPCO’s [Tokyo Electric Power Company] efforts to depressurize the container was successful. Additional measures are now taken tonight using sea water and boric acid. ”

1318Newsreader on Japan’s NHK says: “Right now we are feeling an aftershock.”

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1316 Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for public relations for the Japanese prime minister tweets: “Blast was caused by accumulated hydrogen combined with oxygen in the space between container and outer structure. No damage to container.”

1305The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Japanese authorities are making preparations to distribute iodine to residents in the area of both the Fukushima nuclear plants. The IAEA has reiterated its offer of technical assistance to Japan, should the government request this.

1257Peter Old, of search-and-rescue charity RapidUK, told the BBC’s World Service that while most people think of tsunamis as made of water, by the time the wave reaches inland, it is more like a mudslide. “Those people that would have been on the ground are likely not to have survived,” he said.

1254And Kyodo news has published photos of Rikuzentakata, where hundreds of people are feared dead. They show houses smashed to fragments – a scene of total devastation.

1252Japan’s Fuji TV has run a screen caption saying that as many as 10,000 people are missing in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture.

1235Meanwhile, a huge rescue and recovery operation is under way as Japan tries to deal with the aftermath of Friday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake, which has caused devastation in parts of the country. Stay with us for more minute-by-minute updates, reports from our correspondents on the ground, and your reaction from around the world. You can contact us via email, text or twitter.

1227So, attention has focused over the last few hours on the risk to two nuclear plants in north-eastern Japan, one of which was the site of a spectacular explosion that sent a cloud of dust and debris into the air. But officials say damage from the blast appears to be limited.

1218It seems clear now from Mr Edano’s comments that the nuclear plant building that was blown apart earlier did house a reactor, but the reactor was protected by its metal casing.

1216Government spokesman Yukio Edano says the pressure as well as the radiation at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant has fallen following this afternoon’s explosion.

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1214 Nick Gentle in Tokyo writes: “I just got off the phone with a friend who lives in Ibaraki, thankfully away from the coast. He’s about 150km from the power plant. He and his family are trying to follow the news and warnings on mobile phones as power has been cut so they cannot watch TV or check the internet. They have little water but feel safe because supply lines with Tokyo are still up and his town hasn’t suffered too much physical damage.”
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1211More from Japanese PM Naoto Kan. He says the government will do its best to make sure “not a single person will suffer health problems.”

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1207 Voice of America’s Steve Herman tweets: “In Fukushima-ken. We have 3G mobile sig but no internet access. Most places have no water. Electricity on however.”

1202Government spokesman says the nuclear reactor container at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant has not been damaged, and the level of radiation has dropped following the explosion earlier on Saturday, AFP reports.

1157More from Damian Grammaticas in Sendai. “The streets are covered in mud that was swept inland. There are dozens and dozens of cars that were carried along, twisted and turned, and crushed by the wave. The gas and water have been cut off, fires burning are close to the seaside, and locals say hundreds of people died in this area.”

1151Damian Grammaticas has just arrived in Sendai. He says there are truly astonishing scenes of devastation at the harbour, there are shipping containers that have been swept inland and smashed against buildings and trees and rubble strewn across the streets.

1147Naoto Kan: Safety of people around the Fukushima nuclear plant is our number one priority – first we need to save lives, then we need to make it easier for people in shelters, based on experience from Kobe, he says. After that, reconstruction efforts.

1143Naoto Kan: More than 50-60 countries have expressed sympathies, US President Barack Obama has called.

1142Naoto Kan: “This is an unprecedented disaster that we are suffering.”

1141Prime Minister Naoto Kan urges people to take “responsible actions”, to listen to the media.

1138From the BBC’s Rachel Harvey: “Passing through outskirts of Yamagata. Long queues at petrol stations. Thick snow on the ground.”

1135Alan Margerison, a British businessman living in Tokyo, describes the scene there as relatively calm. “I went out into Shibuya, one of the downtown areas, it’s normally very busy on the weekend. Today there were not as many people around… there were people getting their hair done in the salons, I saw some people having their nails done. I think in Tokyo, people are trying to get back to life as it normally is, but they’re also very worried about the news they’re hearing.”

1128 Car manufacturer Toyota says it will suspend operations at all 12 of its factories in Japan on Monday while it confirms the safety of its employees. One of its subsidiaries, Central Motor Company, has a factory in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, which produces the Yaris model.

1125Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano also said that the current level of radioactivity at the power plant was “within the range that was anticipated” when it was decided that steam would be vented from the reactor to release pressure.

1122A full quote from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano’s press conference: “As reported, we have been informed that there was some kind of an explosive phenomenon at Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant, although it has yet to be confirmed whether [the explosion] was that of a nuclear reactor itself. At present, after the talks among political party heads held a while ago, government officials including the prime minister and the minister of economy, trade, and industry, along with experts, are making all-out efforts to get hold of and analyse the situation, and to take measures.”

1112UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says he has spoken to his Japanese counterpart and offered help with search and rescue, and victim identification. He says further details of the UK’s assistance package will be announced later.

1110An attempt to explain the risk to the Fukushima nuclear plants following the earthquake: The plants are designed to shut down automatically, which halts the main nuclear fission reaction, but there is a residual amount of intense heat within the system. Back-up generators should kick in to power the cooling mechanisms needed to dissipate that heat – but if they fail, as appears to have happened here, temperatures rise. If this isn’t stopped, the reactor vessel itself could eventually melt and leak.

1103Japan’s Kyodo news is also reporting that the four people injured in the nuclear plant explosion are conscious and their injuries are not life-threatening.

1057Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says serious damage to the nuclear reactor container is unlikely despite the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant – Kyodo news.

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1052 Neil McKeown in Nakameguro, Tokyo writes: “The evacuation zone has been extended to 20km by the government. However TepCo [the Tokyo Electric Power Company] appeared in a news conference and promised to release new radioactivity readings after 6pm. It is now 7.30pm and they have not done so. People are getting extremely frustrated at the lack of news coming from TepCo and the government – they have yet to confirm if the building that suffered an explosion housed a reactor, and we have no indication how much radiation has been released or in what direction winds are blowing.”
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1047 Michael Cockerham in the UK tweets: “As someone who survived the Kobe quake, I have great sympathy with the people of Japan – my prayers are with you all. The Japanese government has clearly passed its first test and asked quickly for international help. In Kobe they delayed too long.”

1045BBC environment correspondent Roger Harrabin says local officials believe the release of radiation following the nuclear plant explosion is likely to be small. He adds that nuclear incidents aren’t always as serious as they may sound or appear, and actually, in terms of loss of life and destruction, accidents at hydroelectric plants are far more dangerous.

1040Japanese authorities say troops found between 300 and 400 bodies in the coastal city of Rikuzentakata, which was devastated by the tsunami – NHK.

1037 Sayaka Matsumoto, from the Red Cross in Tokyo, says the organisation has sent more than 60 medical teams – some 450 doctors and nurses – to the worst-hit area. Those who have arrived in Sendai have opened a tent clinic in front of the city’s main government building, she tells the BBC.

1023Japanese authorities are extending the evacuation zone around the two Fukushima nuclear plants from 10km to 20km, according to local media.

1021From the BBC’s Chris Hogg: “Driving through Ibaraki prefecture north east of Tokyo it’s clear vast swathes have no power. There are long queues at the few petrol stations openn as we approach the worst affected part of the prefecture. Presumably that’s for fuel for generators. We’re starting to see the first signs of damage. It’s taken six hours to make a journey that should take an hour or so. The highways are off limits to all but emergency vehicles, the police told us.”

1016The BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin says he understands the blast at the nuclear plant may have been caused by a hydrogen explosion – also one of the possibilities laid out by Walt Patterson of Chatham House. “If nuclear fuel rods overheat and then come into contact with water, this produces a large amount of highly-flammable hydrogen gas which can then ignite,” our correspondent says.

1011More from Walt Patterson of Chatham House. He says the presence of the radioactive caesium in the surrounding area does not pose a huge threat to public health in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. “What would be serious is if there was an explosion or fire that lifted this stuff high in the air, meaning it could get carried over a wide area.”

1009″This is starting to look a lot like Chernobyl” Walt Patterson, an associate fellow with Chatham House, has told the BBC after seeing pictures of the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. “The nuclear agency says that they have detected caesium and iodine outside the unit, which certainly indicates fuel melting at the very least,” he says. “Once you have melting fuel coming into contact with water, that would almost certainly be the cause of the explosion.”

0957From Richard Black, BBC environment correspondent: “Although Japan has a long and largely successful nuclear power programme, officials have been less than honest about some incidents in the past, meaning that official re-assurances are unlikely to convince everyone this time round.”

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0951Lan Murata in Kaneyama writes: “The heater has gone off hours before and now it’s freezing. It was the biggest I ever felt. I always thought the earthquake drills were the waste of time at school. But I was wrong, I felt thankfulI that I didn’t panic, our family is lucky that we have a drawer full of emergency goods. My mum is one who survived the earthquake in 1995 in Kobe. Some of the boards are loose on the stairs. But I can’t move any further because a bookshelf is blocking the stairs.”
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0948Hirofumi Yokoyama, an official at Japan’s Meteorological Agency, says people living along the Pacific Coast should remain on alert: “The possibility of tsunami with a height of 10m or higher is getting slimmer but we’re still calling on people living along the coast of Tohoku region to be cautious because tsunami as high as three metres or more could still hit the area.”

0943Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has confirmed the explosion at Fukushima-Daiichi. “We are looking into the cause and the situation and we’ll make that public when we have further information,” he is quoted as saying by Reuters.

0937The BBC news website has an explainer on nuclear fuel reactors which includes a description of a water cooling system similar to the one that failed in Japan.

0927Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is investigating the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yuko Edano, has told journalists: “As to the evacuation of the residents, of course we will have to ascertain the level of the radiation and, of course, we will have to cope and take appropriate measures. But once we do the analysing and once we know the facts we will let you know.”

0923Before the explosion, the government had declared a state of emergency at five nuclear reactors after the generators pumping cooling water at the reactors failed.

0919So, just to recap, there are growing fears about damage to two Japanese nuclear plants following Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake. There’s recently been an explosion at a building at one of the plants, which is called Fukushima-Daiichi, or Fukushima I. It’s not clear what the building contained.

0914Japanese authorities have extended the evacuation area at the Fukushima-Daini plant – also known as Fukushima II – to 10km, the same distance as for the Fukushima-Daiichi, or Fukushima I plant.

0908The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is urgently seeking information about the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0905Japan’s NHK TV says officials measured the level of radiation at the entrance of the Fukushima-Daiichi plant at 1529 Japanese time. If people are exposed to this level of radiation for an hour they’d receive the same amount of radiation they normally would in a year, the report says.

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0859Tomoaki Furuno in Tokyo writes: “We Japanese appreciate offering of aid and heart-warming messages from the world. After the earthquake, I walked to the government offices to pick up my pregnant wife who works as a civil servant. I passed through thousands of people walking, because all trains stopped. We could not go get back home. Finally, I found something to eat and a building to stay in. We borrowed the blanket and stayed one night inside the building.”
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0857The BBC’s Nick Ravenscroft was on his way towards Fukushima, but about 60km from the plant was stopped by the police and told it was too dangerous to proceed. He says there is lots of traffic coming in the other direction. Authorities in vehicles with sirens are making public announcements to the crowds.

0855Some pictures have come through now on Japanese TV of that explosion. It looks very strong. You can see debris being blasted from the building, then a cloud of smoke mushrooming up from the plant.

0850Japan’s Kyodo news agency reporting that four people have been injured in an explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0847NHK TV carrying advice to people to protect themselves against radiation. Experts say people should cover their mouths and noses with wet towels. Exposed skin should also be covered and people should wash after coming indoors. People should also avoid vegetables and other fresh food, as well as tap water, until authorities give the all-clear.

0841Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear energy expert from Imperial College London, has told the BBC that as long as any nuclear meltdown is small-scale, it can be contained: “For example, there was one in the Chapel Cross plant in south-west Scotland in the 1960s, and at the end of that it only affected two of what they call the fuel channels, the long tubes where the fuel is put. They simply sealed those off, there was no release of radioactivity offsite and the plant continued to operate for 30 years.”

0828Japan’s NHK TV showing before and after pictures of the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. It appears to show that the outer structure of one of four buildings at the plant is no longer there.

0822The Associated Press cites Fukushima Prefecture official Masato Abe as saying the cause of the white smoke seen above the plant is still under investigation, and that it’s unclear whether there was an explosion.

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0814 tlaszuk in Japan tweets: “I know people that walked nearly 30km home last night!”

0810Japanese media reports say that radioactivity has risen 20-fold outside the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

0806NHK TV says the number of dead across Japan has reached 1,000.

0803Japan’s NHK TV also has that report of an explosion, which it says was “near” the Fukushima-Daiichi plant. The Tokyo Electric Power Company – which runs the plant – says some workers were injured, NHK reports.

0755AFP says an explosion has been heard at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, and says Japanese TV is showing a white cloud above the plant.

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0752Ayako Miki in Tokyo writes: “Although a day has passed since the earthquake happened, little information comes from the northern part of Japan. Everybody in Tokyo is just worrying, and nobody knows what will happen. Just scary and uneasy.”
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0746Some 5.6 million Japanese homes are reported to be without power, and more than one million without water.

0741The Bank of Japan is to hold an emergency meeting on Monday – it says it will do its best to guarantee market stability.

0731More from NHK TV: People outside a 10km radius from the Fukushima-Daiichi plant should be safe. About 80,000 people live within a 10km radius of the plant, and evacuations of those people began at 1000 local time.

0728NHK TV says authorities are pumping water into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to try to cool it but that the level of cooling water is sinking.

0725Japanese public broadcaster NHK is reporting that caesium has been detected around the nuclear power plant Fukushima-Daiichi. It quotes an expert as saying a small part of a fuel rod may have melted, but that fuel is almost entirely inside reactor.

0715The BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo says people there are rushing to shops to stock up, worried that supplies will run low.

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0706 Tom Summersall in Tokyo writes: “A harrowing day yesterday full of mixed emotions of fear and relief has been followed by a bizarre feeling today as a degree normalcy returns to Tokyo, with open shops and supermarkets, thrown into stark contrast by what we see on our TV screens of the poor souls up north, and the growing emergency at the Fukushima reactor 150km up the road. Meanwhile, the aftershocks keep bumping along.”
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0657From the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas: “In Sukagawa city, 130km south of Sendai almost all shops and businesses have closed – petrol filling stations, superstores, fast food outlets are all shut because of the earthquake. We passed one three story building that pancaked down. It was apparently a watch factory but nobody was hurt when it came down. The only petrol station we have seen was open, there were queues of people. The highway to Sendai is closed to traffic.”

0650Teacher Michael Tonge in Sendai tells the BBC: “You see a lot of army around, heading out to the worst affected areas. There’s a lot of people coming round with hats on to check the buildings and make sure everyone’s safe. An evacuation centre has been set up. A lot of supermarkets are giving away cheap food but there’s obviously long lines to get that food.”

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0641 Eri in Osaka, Japan writes: “Osaka hasn’t been affected by the earthquake but I’m really shocked. My friend who lives in Tokyo spent last night in a shelter. My mother’s friend lives in Miyagi but my mother can’t contact her. I’m praying for everyone who has been affected by this horrible tragedy.”
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0631A BBC news team lands at Fukushima airport, which shows no signs of damage. The team describes seeing 20 helicopters, including some emergency teams.

0625The quake death toll rises to more than 700, the AFP news agency reports

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0606Masayuki Okumiya, in Tokyo, writes: “It is uncannily quiet. There are fewer people in department stores and it is much less crowded on trains. It is probably because we are tired of the pandemonium of yesterday, but also because we are just worried about the victims of the northen part of Japan. Can’t describe this powerlessness, just watching the footage of tsunami and being unable to do anything for them.”
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0552Clare Gollop, from search-and-rescue charity Rapid UK, tells the BBC: “We’ve had people here today packing kit and just checking that everything is ready to go. We’ve been organising flights… and we’re literally just waiting for a request to go to help.”

0548The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, tells AFP: “We believe the reactor is not melting down or cracking. We are trying to raise the water level.”

0529Back to the quake-damaged nuclear power plant Fukushima-Daiichi, and worrying reports on the AFP news agency, quoting Japanese media, that it “may be experiencing nuclear meltdown”.

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0515John Little, in Komagane-Shi, writes: “We’re currently seeing pictures of an army helicopter making very daring landings on the narrow, congested roof of a hospital in Miyagi-ken to ferry the injured in and out. At the same time, people can be seen elsewhere hanging out of top-floor windows waving blankets and emergency flares to attract attention. Already this morning we’ve seen news helicopters (which aren’t equipped for winching operations) directing rescue helicopters to trapped survivors.”
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0511Japan scales back its tsunami warning for much of the country, and revokes “large tsunami” warnings for all but a stretch of the Pacific coastline closest to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake, Reuters reports.

0449Naomi Van Holbutt-Kirk adds: “While I was waiting on the street the next quake came, which was very frightening and can only be likened to the feeling of riding a wave on the pavement. Frightened mothers were screaming and crying, nobody knew where the safest place to be was and everyone was looking up at the shaking buildings… minutes later we were allowed into the building to collect our children.”

0446British mother-of-three Naomi Van Holbutt-Kirk describes emotional scenes at a school in Tokyo as she and other parents were about to collect their children. She says: “I could actually see my seven-year-old daughter crouched under a desk with her classmates… the building was swinging like a giant pendulum and I was just waiting for the sound of a crash from the adjacent building where my five-year-old son was still in his classroom. It did not collapse and the quake eventually stopped.”

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0432Christopher Craig, in Sendai, writes: “Electrical power was restored this morning and the government has announced that some grocery stores will be opened to provide food and water. Aftershocks hit regularly, with almost continuous tremors since the first quake, but nothing has approached the strength of the initial shock.”
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0430Thousands of people remain trapped in buildings surrounded by swirling floodwaters in Miyagi prefecture, authorities there tell the AFP news agency.

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0419Yukinori Mesuda, from Tokyo, writes: “We are in an historical, deep grief. Thousands are searching for their families with no luck, and can only pray or cry now. We will never lose hope. We shall get back into peaceful life with unity, wisdom and love. Please be with us.”
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0411More from the BBC’s Mariko Oi in Tokyo, who says more than four million households remain without electricity in northern Japan. She says phone companies are offering free public calls because mobile phone lines have been disrupted.

0401More than 215,000 people are taking refuge in emergency shelters in the east and north of the country following Friday’s massive quake, Japan’s national police agency tells the AFP news agency.

0350Sayaka Matsumoto, from the International Red Cross in Tokyo, says: “This is one of the largest disasters we’ve ever experienced, so the situation is very much unpredictable. But so far, we have mobilised more than 60 medical teams and more than 450 medical personnel.”

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0336Naoto Kobaashi, from Tokyo, writes: “Situation in Tokyo is becoming normal now. But most of the information is in Japanese, so unfortunately the foreigners cannot understand them. So please report to the English speaking community in Japan the following : if you are in the hazard area, calm down and try to make a community to help each other. Also please do not use candles. If you have to leave the car out in the road leave the key inside. Emergency vehicles may have to use the road. If you are not in the hazard area please save electricity. All the power plants in Japan are sending their energy to north Japan. To do that all of Japan has to save the energy. Try not to call unless it’s an emergency. There is a limit in phone line and save them for the people who really need it. Try use the 171 service or twitter for the information. Thank you for reading and your help can save lives.”
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0327The earthquake sparked 206 separate fires, Japanese broadcaster reports on its website.

0324Michael Tonge, a teacher from Sendai, tells the BBC: “Going to take a few days for things to get a bit better. Still experiencing strong aftershocks. No trains running so many people stuck and sleeping rough in freezing conditions as had heavy snow storm just after quake when people running to go to evacuation points in parks.”

0319The BBC’s Mariko Oi in Tokyo says Tokyo Electric is warning that demand for electricity will outstrip supply by the early evening, so the firm is urging residents in the capital to save electricity.

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0314Kana Akabane, from Chiba, writes: “Due to no transportation, my colleagues went back home on foot. They walked more than 20km to their home and it took five hours. I stayed at my office with four other colleagues overnight. During the night, we felt many earthquakes, some were small but the others were big. Our place is 400km away from Miyagi, but there are many cracks on the road. Water and clay comes out from the ground, so many cars stack. We want to go home, but recovery of trains is very slow and stations are packed with people who want to get on trains, which is very dangerous.”
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0311A resident of a town near to the worst-hit city of Sendai tells the BBC: “We were shaken very badly by the quake. Unable to stand, everything inside the house just fell down. A large number of people in this town have actually had to be evacuated to schools and gymnasiums because they had no water, no power. It’s pretty overwhelming, people here are just like looking gobsmacked by the whole situation.”)

0308The Union of Concerned Scientists is publishing updates on its website covering technical aspects of the nuclear difficulties in Japan.

0304Mr Lyman goes on to raise the spectre of Chernobyl: “In the worst case the entire core could melt through the steel reactor vessel and escape into the containment building, and then the containment is the only thing that is standing between the radiation in the reactor and the atmosphere. There is a chance if that does occur that there will be over pressure, the containment can fail and you might have a release on the order of the Chernobyl accident.”

0302A similar warning, but with a more doom-laden tone, comes from Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He tells Reuters: “We don’t have all the information but every indication is that the type of event that occurred there is one of the most serious things that can happen to a nuclear reactor.”

0258Mr Acton adds: “If there is nothing worse than radioactive steam being released into the environment, then there’s unlikely to be significant lasting damage to people outside of the plant. If the integrity of the core is lost and the core starts to melt, and much more radioactive steam is leaked out into the environment, then we could be in an extremely serious situation.”

0256More on the nuclear fears: James Acton from the Carnegie Endowment tells the BBC that releasing vapour from the reactors shouldn’t damage the environment.

0253Clever techies launch a Google maps widget that allows people to search for their loved ones or get updates on the situation across Japan, as reported by ZDnet.

0239Another powerful aftershock – with a magnitude of 6.8 – strikes the east coast, according to US seismologists quoted by the AFP news agency.

0232Back to concerns surrounding two stricken nuclear power plants: Steve Kerekes, from the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington DC, says: “Even if there were to be a release of radiation, that in itself is not necessarily something that means the public is being harmed… the question would be ‘what are the levels’?”

0220As reports emerge of people calling for help, trapped under rubble, Gillian Dacey from search-and-rescue charity Rapid-UK, assesses their chances of survival. She tells the BBC: “In the right conditions they can survive at least four, and up to seven days. In some earthquakes, if the person who’s trapped has some water or food, they can maybe survive 10 days, and we have heard of some extreme cases of up to 14 days, but the conditions have to be right.”

0203New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, whose country is dealing with the aftermath of its own earthquake crisis in Christchurch, confirms a rescue team will be sent to Japan. He says: “It’s likely that the complete team of 48 will be leaving within the next 24 to 48 hours. We want to offer whatever support we can.”

0143Tokyo Electric Power releases more radioactive vapour from a second stricken reactor, AFP reports.

0135If you’re just joining us, here’s a quick recap on the main events in Japan: An 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck north-east Japan on Friday, killing at least 300 people – although that figure is widely expected to rise. As a huge relief mission gets under way, states of emergency have been declared at two nuclear plants. Up to 300 bodies were recovered from the port city of Sendai, in Miyagi prefecture, and a third of Kesennuma, a city in the same region, is said to be under water.

0107Reaction just in from flight attendant Mark Richardson, who was on the sixth floor of Narita Airport when the quake struck: “It was absolutely terrifying, computers were flying off the office tables and it seemed to go on for ever,” he says. “Now watching the footage of this quake on TV, I count myself very lucky. Aftershocks are still rattling our nerves every half an hour or so and my house looks like it has been raided by burglars.”

0059Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the two stricken nuclear power plants, confirms it has released a small amount of vapour into the atmosphere to reduce pressure on one of its reactors. It tells AFP there are no health risks.

0050Reaction to events at two nuclear power plants 250km (160 miles) north east of Tokyo, where states of emergencies have been declared. Environmental group Greenpeace tells the AFP news agency “Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences”. Campaigner Jan Beranek adds: “While the immediate focus is on minimising radiation release and keeping local people safe, this is yet another reminder of the inherent risks of nuclear power.”

0033Naval and coastguard helicopters airlift all 81 people to safety from a ship that was swept out to sea by a tsunami, the AFP news agency reports, quoting Japanese media.

0023People living within a 3km (two-mile) radius of the Fukushima-Daini nuclear plant are told to evacuate, the AFP news agency reports.

0014Japan declares a state of emergency at the Fukushima-Daini power plant, where three of its reactors failed, the Associated Press reports. It says a state of emergency is already in place at the nearby Fukushima-Daiichi plant, where two reactors failed.

0008Welcome to the second day of our live coverage of Japan’s earthquake disaster. We’ve archived Friday’s minute-by-minute updates, but you can still access them on a separate page of the website.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/9423417.stm

Monster aftershock could strike within days
Adam Morton
March 14, 2011

PM speaks on Japan and nuclear threat
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Japanese officials told the nuclear reactor had an explosion in one of the walls, rather than in its core.

NORTH-EASTERN Japan can expect another monster earthquake large enough to trigger a tsunami within days, the head of the Australian Seismological Centre says.

The director, Kevin McCue, said there had been more than 100 smaller quakes since Friday, but a larger aftershock was likely.

”Normally they happen within days,” he said. ”The rule of thumb is that you would expect the main aftershock to be one magnitude smaller than the main shock, so you would be expecting a 7.9.
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”That’s a monster again in its own right that is capable of producing a tsunami and more damage.”

The Japanese quake was the result of a process called thrust faulting. A piece of the Earth’s crust broke away at the juncture of the Eurasian and Pacific plates and was thrust underneath the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.

The US Geological Survey estimated the quake moved the Japanese coast about 2.4 metres.

”It basically pushed the sea floor up and down on opposite sides of the fault by 10 metres, causing the tsunami,” Dr McCue said. ”It is a sudden rupture that has occurred, but it has occurred because the two plates are converging at about eight centimetres a year and have been for about 100 years. That eight metres is released suddenly when the plate snaps and breaks and produces the earthquake.”

Japan’s last earthquake on this scale was in 1923, when the magnitude 7.9 Kanto quake killed more than 100,000 people in and around Tokyo and Yokohama.

The latest Japanese disaster is unrelated to the quake that devastated Christchurch last month, which was caused by a fracturing within the Pacific plate.

A seismology research fellow at the University of Melbourne, Gary Gibson, said the world averages one magnitude 8 quake a year, but the rate was inconsistent. The 1980s and 1990s had far fewer large quakes than average, for example.

”There is more variation than you would expect from a random occurrence of earthquakes, and we really don’t have a mechanism to describe why that is the case,” Dr Gibson said. ”But there is no question that the last two years have been very active and well above average.”

Dr McCue dismissed suggestions that melting glaciers due to global warming could escalate the earthquake risk.
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/monster-aftershock-could-strike-within-days-20110313-1bt2p.html

And the aftershocks go on: 275 hit quake-torn Japan as fears grow for missing 10,000 in flattened port town

By Jo Macfarlane
Last updated at 5:17 PM on 13th March 2011

* 42 survivors have been pulled out of the rubble
* Official death toll hits 763, but many hundreds believed to be buried under rubble or washed away by waves
* Explosion at nuclear power plant, but experts say reactor is not at risk
* Number of people contaminated with radiation could reach 160
* Region hit by hundreds of aftershocks, some up to 6.8-magnitude
* Rescue operation begins but some areas still cut off by road damage and flood waters
* 70,000 people evacuated to shelters in Sendai

Forty-two survivors have been pulled from the rubble in the flattened town of Minami Sanrik, where up to 10,000 people are feared to have perished.

Around half the town’s 18,000 residents are missing but search and rescue teams are still working desperately through the rubble to try and find more people.

Police are also trying to stop people returning to their homes.

Despite the first tsunami warning being issued to the town that lies two miles from the coastline, some residents decided to stay in their homes instead of fleeing – leading to the high number of missing people, CNN reported today..

Most of the houses in Minami Sanriku have been completely flattened and waterlogged and one house was found even with seaweed inside.

Villagers carry relief goods in Minami Sanriku, the worst-hit area where almost 10,000 people have gone missing

Last night, the official death toll from Friday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tidal wave stood at 763, but more than 1,700 people are believed to have been buried in the rubble or washed away by waves.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by hundreds of aftershocks, and it is feared the final death count could rise sharply once a full picture of the catastrophe emerges. In Minami Sanriku alone, 10,000 people could have died – more than half of the city’s population.

It only took a few minutes for the 30ft wave to wash the town away with terrifying force. The locals desperately tried to escape to higher ground. But most did not stand a chance.

It is hard to imagine any life remains among the debris. Where last week fishing boats bobbed in the harbour, it is now impossible to tell where the sea begins and the land ends.

One of the few buildings left standing is the town’s Shizugawa Hospital – the large white building to the centre left of this picture. But the rest of what was once the town centre is flooded with filthy sea water.

Other structures lie battered and smashed in piles of broken wood and twisted metal, but most are now little more than debris.

Just visible through the murky waters towards the bottom left of the photograph are the painted stripes of a zebra crossing.

There are vague remnants of roads and the occasional outline of a flooded car, and it is just possible to see the half-submerged outline of the town’s athletics track towards the top left of the picture.

Minami Sanriku lies about 55 miles west of the earthquake’s epicentre and directly in the path of the subsequent tsunami.

Japan has experienced more than 275 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater since Friday’s earthquake, further hampering rescue efforts.

Some have been as powerful as 6.8-magnitude, and it is feared that if an aftershock of a magnitude over 7 occurred it could cause another tsunami.

According to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center, Japan has experienced between 12 and 15 aftershocks per hour since Friday’s quake, and it is not known when they will stop.

In the city of Sendai, authorities have had to evacuate nearly 70,000 people to shelters. To add to problems, there has been a spate of panic buying as most petrol stations and supermarkets are out of service.

At least a million households had gone without water since the quake, and food and gasoline were quickly running out across the coastal regions hit by the tsunami.

* British teacher missing after Japan earthquake struck is found safe and well
* Day the Earth moved: Quake tilted the world’s axis by 25cm
* The tottering towers of Tokyo: Dramatic videos show the moment the earthquake struck
* Incredible swarms of fish form off coast of Acapulco: But was surge caused by tsunami thousands of miles away?

The government insisted radiation levels were low following Saturday’s explosion, saying the blast had not affected the reactor core container, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had been told by Japan that levels ‘have been observed to lessen in recent hours’.

But Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the number of people exposed to radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant could reach 160. Workers in protective clothing were scanning people arriving at evacuation centres for radioactive exposure.

These pictures reveal the brutal aftermath of the tsunami, but an amateur video posted online, filmed by one of the town’s residents, shows the terrifying moment the wave hit.

It shows people desperately driving uphill to escape the wave and the road lined with locals watching open-mouthed as their homes are swept away.

The horrifying footage focuses briefly on those people caught in the traffic, including emergency vehicles, which failed to escape in time. One bus narrowly misses being washed away after speeding uphill as those filming shout ‘Run! Run!’.

Two hundred people were said to have been evacuated from the roof of the hospital and police believe the tidal wave may have washed away an entire train.

One photograph showed the letters ‘SOS’ written on the ground in the car park of the Minami Sanriku Elementary School. The letter H, surrounded by a circle, had also been added, a plea for helicopter assistance.

Tsunami warnings were issued to the entire Pacific seaboard, but the worst fears were not realised. Widespread damage was caused to some coast areas, including California, but there were no reports of fatalities.

President Barack Obama has pledged U.S. assistance and said one aircraft carrier was already in Japan and a second was on its way.

Japan’s worst previous earthquake was an 8.3-magnitude temblor in Kanto which killed 143,000 people in 1923. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.

The country lies on the ‘Ring of Fire’ – an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching across the Pacific where around 90 per cent of the world’s quakes occur.

An estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries were killed after a quake triggered a massive tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004, in the Indian Ocean.

A magnitude 8.8 quake which struck off the coast of Chile in February last year also generated a tsunami which killed 524 people. Authorities mistakenly told people in coastal regions there was no danger of a tsunami

People queue up for food rations at a supermarket in Ogawara, Miyagi Prefecture
Shelves are bare in the suburbs of Tokyo, far from the quake’s epicentre

Shelves are bare in the suburbs of Tokyo, far from the quake’s epicentre

A pile of burnt out vehicles that were ready to be exported are piled in disarray at a port at Tokai village in Ibaraki prefecture
Aerial view of the devastation in the town of Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture

A pile of burnt out vehicles that were ready to be exported are piled in disarray at a port at Tokai village in Ibaraki prefecture – and an aerial view of the devastation in the town of Onagawa, Miyagi

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365569/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-10-000-people-missing-Minamisanriku-aftershocks-hamper-rescue-efforts.html#ixzz1GVYgR3M3

US experts fear ‘Chernobyl-like’ crisis for Japan

Posted: 13 March 2011 0741 hrs

• US deploys two nuclear experts to Japan
• Another quake-hit Japan reactor in trouble: operator
• Thousands rally against nuclear power in Germany
• Winds will blow possible Japan radiation to Pacific
• Japan agency rates nuclear plant accident at 4 on 0-7 scale
• Blast at Japan nuke plant; 10,000 missing after quake
• Japan Post-Quake Nuclear Meltdown

Expert’s view on how close to meltdown are Japan’s quake-hit nuke reactors

WASHINGTON – US nuclear experts warned Saturday that pumping sea water to cool a quake-hit Japanese nuclear reactor was an “act of desperation” that may foreshadow a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Several experts, in a conference call with reporters, also predicted that regardless of the outcome at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant crisis, the accident will seriously damage the nuclear power renaissance.

“The situation has become desperate enough that they apparently don’t have the capability to deliver fresh water or plain water to cool the reactor and stabilize it, and now, in an act of desperation, are having to resort to diverting and using sea water,” said Robert Alvarez, who works on nuclear disarmament at the Institute for Policy Studies.

“I would describe this measure as a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” added Alvarez, using American football slang for a final effort to win the game as time expires.

An 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on Friday set off the emergency at the plant, which was then hit by an explosion Saturday that prompted an evacuation of the surrounding area.

Workers doused the stricken reactor with sea water to try to avert catastrophe, after the quake knocked out power to the cooling system.

What occurred at the plant was a “station blackout,” which is the loss of offsite air-conditioning power combined with the failure of onsite power, in this case diesel generators.

“It is considered to be extremely unlikely but the station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades,” said Ken Bergeron, a physicist who has worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said.

The reactor has been shut down but the concern is the heat in the core, which can melt if it is not cooled. If the core melts through the reactor vessel, Bergeron explained, it could flow onto the floor of the containment building. If that happens, the structure likely will fail, the experts said.

“The containment building at this plant is certainly stronger than that at Chernobyl but a lot less strong than at Three Mile Island, so time will tell,” he said.

Peter Bradford, former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), said that if the cooling attempts fail, “at that point it’s a Chernobyl-like situation where you start dumping in sand and cement.”

The two worst nuclear accidents on record are the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and the partial core meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor in the US state of Pennsylvania in 1979.

Early Sunday, nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said radiation levels had surpassed the legal limit at its Fukushima No. 1 plant, hit by a blast the previous day, Kyodo News reported.

“If it continues, if they don’t get control of this and… we go from a partial meltdown of the core to a full meltdown, this will be a complete disaster,” Joseph Cirincione, the head of the Ploughshares Fund, told CNN.

Cirincione said the presence of radioactive cesium in the atmosphere after the plant was vented indicated that a partial meltdown was under way.

“That told the operators that the fuel rods had been exposed, that the water level had dropped below the fuel rods and the fuel rods were starting to burn, releasing cesium,” he said.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency rated the Fukushima accident at four on the International Nuclear Event Scale from 0 to 7. The Three Mile Island accident was rated five while Chernobyl was a seven.

The government declared an atomic emergency and said tens of thousands of people living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant should leave after an explosion at the nuclear plant Saturday.

Paul Gunter is the US organization Beyond Nuclear, told Fox News that the evacuation zone might be too small: “If that containment is lost… this will spread a tremendous amount of radioactivity, and it will then be borne on the weather.”

The NRC said it has sent two experts to Japan — experts in boiling water nuclear reactors who are part of a broader US aid team sent to the disaster zone.

Bradford, the former NRC member, said: “This is obviously a significant setback for the so-called nuclear renaissance.”

“The image of a nuclear power plant blowing up before your eyes on the television screen is a first.”

But World Nuclear Association spokesman Ian Hore-Lacy told CBS News that the threat of a full meltdown is minimal.

“That possibility is remote at the best of times and is diminishing by the hour as the fuel gets cooler and generates less heat,” he said.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1116149/1/.html