Japan’s nuclear crisis escalates

Japan scrambled to avert a meltdown
at a stricken nuclear plant after a hydrogen explosion at one reactor and
exposure of fuel rods at another, just days after a devastating earthquake and
tsunami.

Officials say at least 10,000
people were likely killed in the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that
followed it.

The big fear at the Fukushima
nuclear complex, 150 miles north of Tokyo, is of a major radiation leak.

The complex has already seen explosions
at two of its reactors on Saturday and on Monday, which sent a huge plume of
smoke billowing above the plant.

Yukiya Amano, head of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, said the reactor vessels of nuclear power
plants affected by the disaster remained intact, and so far, the amount of
radiation that had been released was limited.

“The Japanese authorities are
working as hard as they can, under extremely difficult circumstances, to
stabilize the nuclear power plants and ensure safety,” Amano said in a
statement.

The plant operator, Tokyo Electric
Power Co (TEPCO), said fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor were fully exposed, which
could lead to the rods melting down.

The rods, normally surrounded by
water, were partially exposed earlier after the engine-powered pump pouring in
this water ran out of fuel.

TEPCO said it was preparing to pump
more cooling water on the rods.

There were earlier partial
meltdowns of the fuel rods at both the No. 1 and the No. 3 reactors, where the
explosions had occurred, and a TEPCO official described the situation in the
No. 2 reactor was even worse than in the other units.

A meltdown raises the risk of
damage to the reactor vessel and a possible radioactive leak.

Officials said 80,000 people had
been evacuated from the zone, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from
quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast.

A Japanese official
said before the blast that 22 people were confirmed to have suffered radiation
contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed.

WORLDstorry

Soldiers of Japan Self-Defense Force and firefighters search for the victims in the rubble on Monday, in Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture.
Photo: msnbc.com

WORLDstory2

A combo of screen grabs taken from news footage by Japanese public broadcaster NHK on March 14, shows the moment of a hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station number three reactor.
Photo: msnbc.com

WORLDstory3

People walk along a flooded street in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan Monday.
Photo: msnbc.com
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