Third Blast Rocks Japan Nuclear Plant; Death Toll Rises as Bodies Wash Ashore

BY News Desk  March 14, 2011 at 5:39 PM EDT

Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility on March 14. Photo via DigitalGlobe.

10:30 p.m. ET The nuclear crisis in Japan escalated Tuesday after an explosion at an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant damaged a reactor’s containment vessel, raising the danger of larger emission of radioactive material.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned that there are dangers of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors.

Radiation levels measured at the front gate of the Dai-ichi plant spiked following Tuesday’s explosion at the facility’s Unit 2, a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear safety agency told the AP.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Tuesday that a fourth reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex was on fire and that more radiation was released.

You can watch a live stream of news updates from NHK World.

Stay tuned for more analysis and updates here on the Rundown and on the PBS NewsHour. Find all of the NewsHour’s coverage of the Japan disaster here. For latest developments, check out coverage from the BBC, Al Jazeera English, NHK World, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times’ The Lede blog.

8:02 p.m. ET A third blast in four days rocked the quake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant early Tuesday, the country’s nuclear safety agency reported.

The explosion at Dai-ichi Unit 2 — at 6:10 a.m. Tuesday local time — followed two hydrogen explosions as authorities try to avoid a catastrophic release of radiation in the tsunami-devastated area, The Associated Press reported.

Plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the blast happened near the suppression pool in the reactor’s containment vessel. The pool was later found to have a defect. The company said some employees were temporarily evacuated following Tuesday’s explosion.

5:30 p.m. ET | At this hour, Japanese officials are working to prevent a meltdown at the the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, restoring water levels used for cooling fuel rods. Officials from the Fukushima prefecture said 190 people had been exposed to radiation, but that the levels in the air had since gone down. Four nuclear facilities were damaged in the earthquake and tsunami, but the Dai-ichi plant has been the most concerning because of its proximity to the Pacific and the damage it sustained in the disaster. Seventeen U.S. military personnel who had participated in rescue efforts were also shown to have been exposed to radiation.

The nuclear concerns have compounded the government’s struggle to house evacuees and help victims who are in need of food and shelter. Many are without power or heat four days after the disaster struck. Bodies have washed ashore, and while the official death toll stands at 1,900, the number is expected to rise sharply as authorities work to identify the dead. An estimated 2,000 bodies came ashore in the Miyagi prefecture.

A series of aftershocks have continued to roil Japan, with a 6.2-magnitude quake on Monday that raised fears of another tsunami.

4:10 p.m. ET | Japanese Survivors Describe Escape From Tsunami, Search for Family, Employees

2:45 p.m. ET | This video from NHK World illustrates the safety measures that failed to operate properly at nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

12:15 p.m. ET | Levels of water, used to help cool the core, dropped within one of the plant’s nuclear reactors, exposing uranium fuel rods. Water levels have been increased again, but parts of the rods remain exposed. The concrete encasing appears to be undamaged after an earlier explosion in Unit 3, which officials said relieved some of the pressure. Officials are trying to prevent a full meltdown through that outer containment layer, which would release high levels of radiation.

11:30 a.m. ET| Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that it is “highly likely” that fuel rods within three reactors are melting. The outer containment shells are still holding.

11:20 a.m. ET | In remarks at a middle school in Arlington, Va., President Obama began by saying “Like all Americans, I continue to be heartbroken by the images of devastation in Japan and I know all of you, young and old, have been watching the full magnitude of this tragedy.” He expressed support from the American people for “some of our closest friends and allies” and offered continued recovery assistance.

10:30 a.m. ET | Aftershocks are continuing to to rattle Japan after last week’s 8.9-magnitude temblor, adding complications to recovery and rescue efforts.

To see a live view of seismic activity in the region we created a Google Earth map, overlaid with United States Geological Service data. The map will update at least every 30 minutes, showing new aftershocks as red circles. Click below to view it.

9:00 a.m. ET | A second explosion rocked a nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan, injuring 11 and sending plumes of smoke into the air. The explosion was reportedly felt as far as 25 miles away. Officials said radiation levels increased but were within legally allowed limits.

Japanese authorities have been scrambling to stave off meltdowns, using seawater to try to cool the reactors. An explosion also occurred on Saturday, and there are fears that if a third unit overheats at the Fukushima plant, there could be another explosion. Tens of thousands have been evacuated from the vicinity of the plant.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet repositioned ships that had been off shore in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant after detecting low levels of radiation. Some contamination also was detected on crew members who were involved in disaster relief missions.

In Miyagi prefecture, an estimated 1,000 bodies washed ashore, raising the death toll to 2,800, but as recovery efforts continue that number is likely to rise. Some officials say it could be well over 10,000.

In the aftermath of Friday’s massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, millions are without power, water and food in the northeast.


The Japanese stock market fell 6 percent on Monday, the first full business day since the disaster. Financial analysts around the world are watching to see how the hit to Japan’s economy will affect global markets. Infrastructure damage has already hurt factory production and transportation.

Aerial images have highlighted how significant the destruction was across Japan’s east coast. Friday’s quake was the largest on record in Japan and unleashed a series of powerful aftershocks that continued to rattle the country. The city of Sendai was inundated with water and hundreds died when the torrent swept away cars and homes.

Read more:

Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami: How They Happened

Japan ‘the Most Prepared Place in the World’ for a Tsunami

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