Japanese officials have confirmed that meltdown may have occurred at two nuclear reactors after a second explosion hit the country’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant earlier today.
The explosion, caused by a build-up of hydrogen, destroyed the building that houses reactor number 3 and followed an earlier explosion at the number 1 reactor after a massive earthquake hit the region on Friday.
The second explosion has resulted in more than 200,000 people being evacuated from areas within a 20 kilometre radius of the plant. With reports of radioactive cesium gas escaping from the plant, workers are desperately trying to cool down reactor fuel rods.
High levels of hydrogen and radioactive cesium are signs that a meltdown may be occurring. The International Atomic Agency has offered to help by sending specialists and technical expertise.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, said in a press release late Sunday that radiation levels outside that plant remain high; however authorities have played down fears of a mass radiation leak.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that, according to the head of the nuclear facility, the container vessel surrounding the reactor is still intact. Initial reports suggest that radiation levels rose following the second explosion, but Mr Edano said he does not believe there has been a massive leak.
“We are now collecting information on the concentration of radiation,” he said.
The earthquake that hit the country has resulted in several nuclear plants being affected. Stephanie Cooke author of “In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age.” described the situation as “unprecedented” and said “You’ve never had a situation with multiple reactors at risk.”.
Japan is heavily reliant on nuclear for its electricity and conservation controls are now in place in an attempt at addressing energy shortfalls caused by the disaster.
The country is slowly coming to terms with the aftermath of the quake and the official death toll of 1600 rose dramatically after the discovery of 2000 bodies in Miyagi prefecture. The final total is now expected to rise to tens of thousands and reports this morning revealed one area with almost 10,000 people still missing.
It has emerged that the 8.9 magnitude quake that hit the country at 2:46 pm Friday local time moved the Japanese coastline by eight feet and shifted the earth’s axis by 10 cm. A measure of the force of the wave that hit the area came when it was revealed that in the town of Minami Soma, all structures were destroyed with the exception of those made from steel and concrete.
There was further panic earlier today when helicopter reports claimed that another tsunami was heading for the Sendai region. However with people heading away from water and aiming for higher ground the alert was cancelled and the reports confirmed as a false alarm.