Japan warns of second nuclear plant explosion
March 12, 2011
Japan's top government spokesman has warned of the risk of a second explosion at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, but said that reactor three could withstand it as reactor one did a day earlier.
"There is the possibility of an explosion in the third reactor, as in the case of the first reactor," chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told a televised press conference.
He said the reactor would survive and there would be no effect on the health of nearby residents.
The radiation emergency is widening in earthquake-ravaged Japan, with the cooling systems vital for preventing overheating failing at the second nuclear reactor.
The country is battling a feared meltdown of two reactors at the power plant as the full horror of the disaster emerges on the ravaged north-east coast.
An explosion at the ageing nuclear plant blew apart the building housing reactor No. 1 on Saturday, a day after the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed a monster 10-metre tsunami.
Asked earlier whether meltdowns had occurred, Mr Edano said: "We are acting on the assumption that there is a high possibility that one has occurred" in the plant's No. 1 reactor.
"As for the No. 3 reactor, we are acting on the assumption that it is possible," he said of the plant situated 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo.
Mr Edano said some radiation had escaped, but that the levels released into the air have so far not reached levels high enough to affect human health.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said about 200,000 people had so far been evacuated from the area around the two Fukushima plants that house a total of 10 reactors.
Japan's nuclear safety agency rated the incident at four on the international scale of zero to seven. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States was rated five, while the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a seven.
After Saturday's blast, which sent smoke billowing into the sky, the government moved to calm growing fears, saying the explosion did not rupture the container surrounding the reactor itself.
Workers doused the stricken No.1 reactor with seawater to try to avert catastrophe, in what US experts warned was an "act of desperation" that, in the worst-case scenario, could foreshadow a much more serious disaster.
The plant's operator said that so much water had evaporated from the No. 3 reactor that at one stage the top three metres of the fuel rods were exposed to the air, although they were later covered again.
A total of 22 people have been hospitalised after being exposed to radioactivity, although it was not immediately clear to what degree they were exposed and what condition they were in.