Japan scrambles to avert meltdowns as nuclear crisis builds

Workers scramble to cool reactors; official says 2nd blast possible |

Japan faced the threat of new radiation leaks at an earthquake-crippled nuclear plant on Sunday after the cooling system failed at a second reactor in what could be the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

Strong aftershocks continued to shake Japan’s main island as the desperate search pressed on for survivors from Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami. The death toll was expected to rise above 2,000.


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A volunteer firefighter walks past a house pierced by a utility pole fallen after Friday's strong earthquake in Rikuzentakada, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011.


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A police officer wearing a respirator guides people to evacuate away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following an evacuation order for residents who live in within a 10 km (6.3 miles) radius from the plant after an explosion in Tomioka Town in Fukushima Prefecture March 12, 2011. Japanese authorities battling to contain rising pressure in nuclear reactors damaged by a massive earthquake were forced to release radioactive steam from one plant on March 12, 2011 after evacuating tens of thousands of residents from the area. Tokyo Electric Power Co also said fuel may have been damaged by falling water levels at the Daiichi facility, one of its two nuclear power plants in Fukushima, some 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.


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A factory building has collapsed in Sukagawa city, Fukushima prefecture, in northern Japan on March 11, 2011.


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Thousands were evacuated on Saturday following an explosion and leak from the facility’s No. 1 reactor in Fukushima, 240 kilometres north of Tokyo, where there is believed to have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods.

Now engineers were pumping in seawater, trying to prevent the same thing from happening at the No. 3 reactor, the government said in apparent acknowledgement that it had moved too slowly on Saturday.

“Unlike the No.1 reactor, we ventilated and injected water at an early stage,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news briefing.

Asked if fuel rods were partially melting in the No. 1 reactor, Mr. Edano said: “There is that possibility. We cannot confirm this because it is in the reactor. But we are dealing with it under that assumption. We are also dealing with the No.3 reactor based on the assumption that it is a possibility.”

A meltdown refers to a very serious collapse of a power plant’s systems and its ability to manage temperatures. A complete meltdown would release uranium and dangerous byproducts into the environment that can pose serious health risks.

Nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said radiation levels around the Fukushima Daiichi plant had risen above the safety limit but that it did not mean an “immediate threat” to human health.

It said earlier it was preparing to vent steam to relieve pressure in the No.3 reactor at the plant and the government had warned of a rise in radiation during the procedure.


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