An explosion was reported at a Japanese nuclear power plant on Saturday morning, following Friday’s 8,9-magnitude earthquake. (photo, from nytimes.com)
After the detection of radioactive material outside of the plant at Fukushima, about 250km (160 miles) north-east of the capital Tokyo. Japanese nuclear authorities said there might be a meltdown at one of the plant’s reactors.
A huge pall of smoke was seen coming from the Fukushima Daiichi plant after an explosion blew off the roof of the structure, bringing down walls and causing a radiation leak of unspecified proportions.
Bloomberg News quoted Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, as saying that four people were injured in the explosion that happened “near” the No. 1 reactor at 3:40 p.m. Japan time.
Before the explosion, broad evacuation orders were issued by the authorities for people living near two nuclear power plants whose cooling systems broke down because of the earthquake. Small amounts of radioactive material were likely to leak from the plants, warned the officials.
State of emergency
A state of emergency was declared by Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan, at the Fukushima 1 and 2 power plants, an automatic procedure after nuclear reactors shut down in the event of an earthquake, which allows officials to take rapid action.
The chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said he believed an existing six-mile evacuation zone around the Daiichi reactor, declared on Friday, was “appropriate.”
This evacuation order at the Daiichi plant affects some 45,000 people. The evacuation of the Daini plant was only for a one-mile radius because “there is no sign that radiation has been emitted outside,” an official said.
Before and after pictures of the plant, broadcast by Japan’s NHK TV, appeared to show that the outer structure of one of four buildings at the plant had collapsed after the explosion.
Radioactive caesium and iodine have been detected near the number one reactor of the Fukushima 1 plant, said Japan’s nuclear agency on Saturday.
In order to relieve pressure building up inside, steam containing low-level radiation were released and tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from surrounding areas.
In the control room of one plant radiation 1,000 times above normal was detected. However according to authorities levels outside the facility’s gates were only eight times above normal, spelling “no immediate health hazard”.
‘No Chernobyl is possible’
The supply of off-site power to the plant was cut by the massive quake and the tsunami, as well as diesel generators intended to provide back-up electricity to the cooling system.
“The events that occurred at these plants, which is the loss of both offsite power and onsite power, is one of the rarest events to happen in a nuclear power plant, and all indications are that the Japanese do not have the situation under control,” Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US-based nonprofit organisation, said.
But Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, told Al Jazeera that a major radioactive disaster is unlikely : “No Chernobyl is possible at a light water reactor. Loss of coolant means a temperature rise, but it also will stop the
“Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3 km radius.”
Japan’s prime minister left on a helicopter ride to Fukushima early Saturday morning in order to appraise the situation at the plants, but also in other areas in the disaster zone. Mr Kan also said that securing the nuclear plants was his country’s top priority. (photo, from nytimes.com)
The massive earthquake that hit northeastern Japan and triggered a tsunami killed at least 703 people, but media reports estimate that about 1,300 people may have been died.
The earthquake lasted about two minutes and was felt as far as Beijing in China, about 2,500 km away.
The first quake has already been followed by more than 70 powerful aftershocks, one being as strong as 7.1.
According to scientists, Friday’s quake was about 8,000 times stronger that the one that hit New Zealand last month, devastating the city of Christchurch.
Members of the same search and rescue teams from around the world, who helped in New Zealand are now on their way to Japan.