Japan nuclear explosion 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NTV via Reuters TV)
Radiation leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor on Saturday after an explosion blew the roof off in the wake of a massive earthquake, but the government insisted that radiation levels were low.
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The blast raised fears of a meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo as officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the world.
The plant was damaged by Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which sent a 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there had been no major change in the level of radiation after the explosion because it did not occur inside the reactor container. "The nuclear reaction facility is surrounded by a steel storage machine, which is then surrounded by a concrete building. This concrete building collapsed. We learned that the storage machine inside did not explode," he told a news conference.
Edano initially said an evacuation radius of 10 km (6 miles) from the stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture was adequate, but then an hour later the boundary was extended to 20 km (13 miles). TV footage showed vapor rising from the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Along the northeast coast, rescue workers searched through the rubble of destroyed buildings, cars and boats, looking for survivors in hardest-hit areas such as the city of Sendai, 300 km (180 miles) northeast of Tokyo.
Dazed residents hoarded water and huddled in makeshift shelters in near-freezing temperatures. Aerial footage showed buildings and trains strewn over mudflats like children's toys.
"All the shops are closed, this is one of the few still open. I came to
buy and stock up on diapers, drinking water and food," Kunio Iwatsuki,
68, told Reuters in Mito city, where residents queued outside a damaged
supermarket for supplies.
Across the coastline, survivors
clambered over nearly impassable roads. In Iwanuma, not far from Sendai,
people spelled S.O.S. out on the roof of a hospital surrounded by
water, one of many desperate scenes.
The earthquake and tsunami, and now the radiation leak, present Japan's government with its biggest challenge in a generation.