Explosion, Fire at Nuclear Plant Trigger Radiation Fears in Quake’s Aftermath

BY News Desk  March 16, 2011 at 8:20 AM EST

8:20 a.m. ET Damage to the second reactor is shown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in this image released by Digital Globe. Click to view larger.

6:15 p.m. ET Another fire has broken out at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, this time at the No. 4 reactor unit, the AP and other agencies report.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Hajimi Motujuku says the blaze erupted early Wednesday in the outer housing of the reactor’s containment vessel.

3 p.m. ET | As a growing radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi is evacuated, several dozen workers are staying at the plant in an effort to contain the crisis and prevent it from spreading further. An estimated 200,000 have left a zone of about 12 miles near the plant, including most of its employees. Those who remain are likely being exposed to high levels of radiation, with the resulting health effects unknown. The latest explosion raised the levels to 167 times what they normally are.


In addition to the four reactors that have been their focus in recent days, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said a fifth and six were showing signs of trouble and that he could not eliminate the chance that there could be a meltdown. He has stated that the public is not at serious risk. Some radiation has been present as far away as Tokyo, which has a population of 39 million.

10:40 a.m. ET | Several powerful aftershocks rattled Japan Tuesday, with a 6.2-magnitude quake near the Fukushima prefecture and 6.0-magnitude quake 55 miles from Tokyo.

People queue up for buses at a station to get out of the city in Yamagata, Yamagata prefecture Tuesday. Explosions and a fire at Japan’s quake-hit nuclear plant in neighboring Fukushima prefecture unleashed dangerous radiation, sparking a collapse on the stock market and panic-buying in supermarkets. Photo by Mike Clarke / AFP / Getty Images

9 a.m. ET | High radiation levels from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant forced 140,000 people in the vicinity to stay indoors after a third explosion at the facility, which is located along Japan’s northeastern coast. The area has already been devastated by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake that triggered a massive tsunami and a series of strong aftershocks. More than 10,000 are feared dead.

Japanese officials said that the fire, which took place in a fuel storage area, has been extinguished, but if the fuel is still boiling, it may be releasing more radiation. (See a graphic of the damaged nuclear plant here.)

After the third explosion, radiation levels in the nearby prefecture of Ibaraki were 100 times the normal level, an amount some officials caution is not dangerous for a brief period of time. Within a 12-mile radius of the plant, some 70,000 people have been evacuated but 140,000 remain. There was also a slight increase of radiation detected in densely-populated Tokyo.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for calm in a television address but said radiation from the affected reactors had spread.

As officials struggle to stave off a nuclear crisis, rescue workers have been sifting through rubble to recover victims of the quake and tsunami. Millions are without adequate food, water and heat in cold temperatures in northeastern Japan, and an estimated 450,000 have inundated temporary shelters. Hospitals and morgues have been overwhelmed with the influx of casualties. In Miyagi prefecture, bodies taken by the tsunami have washed back ashore.

The disaster has also hit Japan’s economy, with the Nikkei dropping 10.6 percent Tuesday, and manufacturing in key industries such as automobiles and electronics has plummeted. Some estimate that the damage will total $180 billion in the world’s third-largest economy.

In other parts of Asia, a phony text message claiming that radiation had spread to other nations caused alarm. In the Philippines, the government had to issue a denial after a text that claimed to be from the BBC prompted school evacuations.

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