Explosion Rocks Japanese Nuclear Plant After Quake

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

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h/t New York Times

The New York Times reports Japan Expands Evacuation Around Nuclear Plant – NYTimes.com:

An explosion at a nuclear power plant in northern Japan on Saturday blew the roof off one building, brought down walls and caused a radiation leak of unspecified proportions, Japanese officials said, after Friday’s huge earthquake caused critical failures in the plant’s cooling system.

Television images showed a huge cloud of white-gray smoke from the explosion. Soon afterward, government officials said an evacuation zone around the plant had been doubled, to 12 miles. The chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, confirmed earlier news reports of an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 15o miles north of Tokyo, saying: “We are looking into the cause and the situation and we’ll make that public when we have further information.” He was speaking amid fears that a disastrous meltdown could be imminent because of critical cooling failures at that plant and another nearby, Daini, after both were shut down.

Images on Japanese television showed that the walls of one building had crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing with smoke billowing from the plant. The Associated Press reported that the damaged building housed a nuclear reactor, though that report was not immediately verified by nuclear officials. The cause of the explosion was unclear, with some experts speculating that it may have resulted from a hydrogen build-up.

There was no immediate confirmation of news reports that the container of the nuclear reactor itself had escaped damage.

Bloomberg News quoted Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, as saying the explosion happened “near” the No. 1 reactor at around 3:40 p.m. Japan time on Saturday. Four people were reported injured.

Two workers were reported missing at the Daiichi plant, but the company did not explain what might have happened to them.

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Nuclear safety officials focused initially on the Daiichi plant. But by Saturday morning Japan had declared states of emergency for five reactors at the two plants, an escalation that added to worries about the safety of nuclear facilities in the quake-prone Japanese islands.

The Daiichi and Daini plants are 10 miles apart in Fukushima Prefecture, close to the quake’s epicenter off the coast.

The plants’ problems were described as serious but were far short of a catastrophic emergency like the partial core meltdown that occurred at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979.

A Japanese nuclear safety panel said the radiation levels were 1,000 times above normal in a reactor control room at the Daiichi plant. Some radioactive material had also seeped outside, with radiation levels near the main gate measured at eight times normal, NHK quoted nuclear safety officials as saying.

The safety officials said there was “no immediate health hazard” to residents from the leaks, which they described as “minute,” and people were urged to stay calm.

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