UPDATE – March 15, 2011
March 15, 2011
A quake-stricken nuclear plant in Japan has been hit by a third explosion in four days, amid fears of a meltdown. The blast occurred at reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which engineers had been trying to stabilise after two other reactors exploded. The protective chamber around the radioactive core of reactor 2 has been damaged and radiation levels near the plant have risen, officials say. The crisis was sparked by a 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on Friday. Thousands of people are believed to have died, and millions are spending a fourth night without water, food, electricity or gas. More than 500,000 people have been left homeless.
A fresh explosion rocked reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant – 250km (155 miles) north-east of Tokyo – in the early hours of Tuesday. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the level of radiation at the plant had “considerably risen” and there was a high risk of radioactive material leaking out. He added that the last remaining people within a 20km (12 mile) exclusion zone around the plant had to leave, and that those living between 20km and 30km from the site should remain indoors. Radiation levels around Fukushima for one hour’s exposure rose to eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year, said the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco).
The radiation reading at 0831 local time (2331 GMT) climbed to 8,217 microsieverts an hour from 1,941 about 40 minutes earlier, Tepco said. The annual legal limit is 1,000 microsieverts. However, officials say that a level of one million microsieverts would be needed to cause widespread radiation sickness. Mr Kan also said a fire had broken out at the plant’s reactor 4, but urged people to remain calm. On Monday, a hydrogen blast at reactor 3 injured 11 people and destroyed the building surrounding it. That explosion was felt 40km (25 miles) away and sent a huge column of smoke into the air.
It followed a blast at reactor 1 on Saturday. All explosions have been preceded by cooling system breakdowns. Engineers are trying to prevent meltdowns by flooding the chambers of the nuclear reactors with sea water to cool them down. After the third explosion, officials said there were fears that the containment vessel housing the reactor may have been damaged. Higher radiation levels were recorded on Tuesday south of Fukushima, Kyodo news agency reported. Nearly 185,000 people have been evacuated from a 20km (12 mile) exclusion zone around the plant.