M A I N   N E W S

Japan faces nuke nightmare
l Risk of second blast at Fukushima reactor 
l 17,000 evacuated near plant
l Over 190 may have been exposed to radiation 
l  Millions sans power, water

Fukushima, March 13
Japan fought on Sunday to avert a meltdown at three earthquake-crippled nuclear reactors, describing the massive quake and tsunami, which may have killed more than 10,000 people, as the nation’s biggest crisis since World War Two.

The world’s third-largest economy is struggling to respond to a disaster of epic proportions, with more than 1 million without water or power and whole towns wiped off the map. “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 II,” a grim-faced Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference. "We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."

As he spoke, officials worked desperately to stop fuel rods in the damaged reactors from overheating, which could in turn melt the container that houses the core, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the wind. The government said a building housing a second reactor at the same complex was at risk of exploding after a blast blew the roof off the first the day before. The complex is 240 km north of Tokyo. Later, it said it was pouring seawater into a third reactor to release a buildup of pressure. The No. 1 reactor, where the roof blew off, is 40 years old and was originally scheduled to go out of commission in February but had its operating licence was extended another 10 years. But Kan said the crisis was not another Chernobyl, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster.

“Radiation has been released in the air, but there are no reports that a large amount was released,” Jiji news agency

quoted him as saying. “This is fundamentally different from the Chernobyl accident.” Nevertheless, France recommended its citizens leave the Tokyo region, citing the risk of further earthquakes and uncertainty about the nuclear plants.

Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 persons 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. Almost two million households were without power in the freezing north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water.

Kyodo news agency said about 300,000 persons were evacuated nationwide, many seeking refuge in shelters, wrapped in blankets, some clutching each other sobbing. Authorities have set up a 20-km (12-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant and a 10 km (6 miles) zone around another nuclear facility close by. Around 140,000 persons have been moved from the area, while authorities prepared to distribute iodine to protect people from radioactive exposure.

The nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl, sparked criticism that authorities were ill-prepared for such a massive quake and the threat that could pose to the country’s nuclear power industry. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there might have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima. Engineers were pumping in seawater, trying to prevent the same happening at the No. 3 reactor, he said in apparent acknowledgement they had moved too slowly on Saturday.

“Unlike the No 1 reactor, we ventilated and injected water at an early stage,” Edano told a news briefing. The No 3 reactor uses a mixed-oxide fuel which contains plutonium, but plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said it did not present unusual problems.

Asked if fuel rods were partially melting in the No. 1 reactor, Edano said: “There is that possibility. We cannot confirm this because it is in the reactor. But we are dealing with it under that assumption .” He said fuel rods may have partially deformed at the No. 3 reactor but a meltdown was unlikely to have occurred. “The use of seawater means they have run out of options,” said David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Project.

TEPCO said radiation levels around the Fukushima Daiichi plant had risen above the safety limit but that it did not mean an “immediate threat” to human health. Edano said there was a risk of an explosion at the building housing the No. 3 reactor, but that it was unlikely to affect the reactor core container. The Japanese PM said food, water and other necessities such as blankets were being delivered by vehicles but because of damage to roads, authorities were considering air and sea transport. He also said the government was preparing to double the number of troops mobilised to 100,000. Thousands spent another freezing night huddled in blankets over heaters in emergency shelters along the northeastern coast, a scene of devastation after the quake sent a 10-metre (33-foot) wave surging through towns and cities in the Miyagi region, including its main coastal city of Sendai. — Reuters

What’s meltdown 

Meltdown basically means that the fuel inside the reactor becomes so hot that the cladding that holds it in place melts and the radioactive material is released into the environment. That's what happened at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.

Toll could cross 10,000 

Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than10,000 persons may have been killed by the devastating tsunami that was triggered by the 8.9 trembler. Around 300,000 persons were evacuated nationwide, with many seeking refuge in shelters

Volcanic eruption

A volcano in southwestern Japan erupted on Sunday after nearly two weeks of relative silence. It was not immediately clear if the eruption was a direct result of the Friday’s massive earthquake. In January, the Shinmoedake volcano saw its first major eruption in 52 years.






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