Blast damages roof of Japan nuclear reactor, steam rising

Radiation levels rise 4-fold after explosion at No. 2 reactor; water levels in reactor drop sharply.

Japan Nuclear Plant Satellite 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Japan Nuclear Plant Satellite 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TOKYO - A fresh explosion at Japan's quake-stricken nuclear power plant damaged the roof above its overheating No.2 reactor on Tuesday and steam is rising from the complex, Jiji news agency said.
Radiation levels in the air surrounding the nuclear power plant have risen four-fold after the explosion, the plant operator said.
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The radiation reading at 08:31am local time (2331 GMT) climbed to 8,217 microsieverts an hour from 1,941 about 40 minutes earlier, Tokyo Eletcric Power Co said.
Japanese authorities say levels would need to reach 1 million or so before causing large-scale radiation sickness.

Authorities at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, damaged in Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami, are trying to prevent meltdowns in all three of the plant's nuclear reactors.

Twice before, there have been explosions which have ripped off some roofing from the plant, but these had not damaged the reactor vessels, authorities have said.

As fears of a meltdown grew, some 20 spouses and children of Israeli diplomats serving in the embassy in Tokyo returned to Israel for a temporary break, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman said that the diplomats, however, remain in place and the embassy is operating.  Since the schools in the country are not functioning normally, and some of the children of  the diplomats are living in fear of additional earthquakes, the decision was made to bring those interested in a short vacation back to Israel.
No. 3 reactor control room remains operational

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was told by Japanese nuclear authorities the control room of the unit No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant remained operational, following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

"The reactor building exploded but the primary containment vessel was not damaged. The control room of unit 3 remains operational," the IAEA said in a statement.
"All personnel at the site are accounted for. Six people have been injured," it said in a statement on its website.
The core container of the No. 3 reactor was intact after the explosion, the government said, but it warned those still in the 20-kilometer (13-mile) evacuation zone to stay indoors.
A Japanese official said before the blast 22 people had been confirmed to have suffered radiation contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed. Workers in protective clothing used hand-held scanners to check people arriving at evacuation centers.
US warships and planes helping with relief efforts moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation. The US Seventh Fleet described the move as precautionary.

US government officials told the NY Times that sailors and other military personnel on-board were exposed to a month's worth of radiation in an hour's time. They added that US helicopters flying humanitarian missions some 60 miles north of damaged Japanese reactors were coated with particulate radiation. The aircraft were washed off.

The government had warned of a possible explosion at the No. 3 reactor because of the buildup of hydrogen in the building housing the reactor. TV images showed smoke rising from the Fukushima facility, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
An explosion blew the roof off the No. 1 reactor building on Saturday.
Officials confirmed on Sunday that three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.
Engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Humanitarian crisis growing
Meanwhile, Japan battled through the weekend to prevent a nuclear catastrophe and to care for the millions without power or water in its worst crisis since World War Two.
Kyodo news agency said 2,000 bodies had been found on Monday on the shores of Miyagi prefecture, which took the brunt of the tsunami.
A TV station also reported a new tsunami on Monday but the weather agency said it had not detected unusual wave movement.
A badly wounded nation has seen whole villages and towns wiped off the map by a wall of water, leaving in its wake an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant remained worrisome and that the authorities were doing their utmost to stop damage from spreading.
"The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War Two," a grim-faced Kan had told a news conference on Sunday.
"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."
Death toll 'above 10,000'
Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 people may have been killed as the wall of water triggered by Friday's 8.9-magnitude quake surged across the coastline, reducing whole towns to rubble. It was the biggest to have hit the quake-prone country since it started keeping records 140 years ago.
"I would like to believe that there still are survivors," said Masaru Kudo, a soldier dispatched to Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened town of 24,500 people in far-northern Iwate prefecture.
Kyodo said 80,000 people had been evacuated from a 20-km (12-mile) radius around the stricken nuclear plant, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast of the main island Honshu.
Almost 2 million households were without power in the freezing north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water.
"I am looking for my parents and my older brother," Yuko Abe, 54, said in tears at an emergency center in Rikuzentakata.
"Seeing the way the area is, I thought that perhaps they did not make it. I also cannot tell my siblings that live away that I am safe, as mobile phones and telephones are not working."