Japan Earthquake 2011: Nuclear Meltdown Looms As New Threat

03/13/2011 05:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

IWAKI, Japan -- A partial meltdown was likely under way at a second nuclear reactor, a top Japanese official said Sunday, as authorities frantically tried to prevent a similar threat from nearby unit following a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

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Some 170,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the area covering a radius of 12 miles (20 kilometers) around the plant in Fukushima near Iwaki. A meltdown refers to a very serious collapse of a power plant's systems and its ability to manage temperatures. A complete meltdown would release uranium and dangerous byproducts into the environment that can pose serious health risks.

Japan dealt with the nuclear threat as it struggled to determine the scope of the twin disasters Friday, when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in its recorded history, was followed by a tsunami that ravaged its northeastern coast with breathtaking speed and power.

The official count of the dead was 763, but the government said the figure could far exceed 1,000. Media reports said some 10,000 people were missing or unaccounted for.

The quake and tsunami damaged three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which lost their cooling functions necessary to keep the fuel rods functioning properly. At first the Unit 1 reactor was in trouble with an explosion destroying the walls of the room in which it is placed. Later, Unit 3 also began to experience problems.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said operators released slightly radioactive air from Unit 3 Sunday, while injecting water into it as an effort to reduce pressure and temperature to save the reactor from a possible meltdown.

Still, a partial meltdown in the unit is "highly possible," he told reporters.

"Because it's inside the reactor, we cannot directly check it but we are taking measures on the assumption of the possible partial meltdown," he said.

Edano said radiation levels briefly rose above legal limits, but that it has since declined significantly. Also, fuel rods were exposed briefly, he said, indicating that coolant water didn't cover the rods for some time. That would contribute further to raising the temperature in the reactor vessel.

Meanwhile, the government doubled the number of troops pressed into rescue and recovery operations to about 100,000 from 51,000.

Teams searched for the missing along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the Japanese coast, and thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers that were cut off from rescuers and aid. At least a million households had gone without water since the quake struck. Large areas of the countryside were surrounded by water and unreachable. Some 2.5 million households were without electricity.

Powerful aftershocks continued to rock the country, including one Sunday with a magnitude of 6.2 that originated in the sea, about 111 miles (179 kilometers) east of Tokyo. It swayed buildings in the capital, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

03/23/2011 4:31 PM EDT

South Korean Diaper Panic Results From Quake

Reuters reports:

The risk of radiation contamination from Japan's damaged nuclear power stations has sparked food bans across the globe and more surprisingly, a buying frenzy from South Korean mothers who fear their favorite Japanese-made diapers may suddenly become unavailable.

Cho Myung-jin, who organizes online group-buying for Japanese diapers, saw her website collapse on Tuesday under the weight of traffic as panicked South Koreans chased brands they believe are better quality than locally-made products.

Read more here.

03/23/2011 4:29 PM EDT

More Delays In Japan

Reuters reports:

Supply chain disruptions in Japan have forced at least one global automaker to delay the launch of two new models and are forcing other industries to shutter plants and rethink their logistical infrastructure.

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said on Wednesday it would delay the launch in Japan of two new additions to the Prius line-up, a wagon and a minivan, from the originally planned end-April due to production disruptions from this month's devastating earthquake.

The world's biggest automaker has suspended production at all of its 12 domestic assembly plants at least through March 26 and has estimated a production loss of 140,000 vehicles until then.

03/23/2011 6:59 AM EDT

Mass Graves

Reuters reports:

The towering waves that splintered thousands of Japanese homes and lives has forced the country to rethink one of its most sacred Buddhist practices: how it treats the dead.

Desperate municipalities are digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are usually cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.

03/22/2011 7:03 PM EDT

6.0 Earthquake Hits Northern Japan

Reuters Reports:

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolted parts of northern Japan near a quake-stricken nuclear power plant Wednesday, national broadcaster NHK said.

03/22/2011 4:30 PM EDT

Chernobyl Survivor To Japan: 'Run!'

AOL spoke with Natalia Manzurova, a "cleaner" after the disaster in Chernobyl who suffered many side effects from radiation. Her advice to the people of japan was to leave quickly. She said:

Every nuclear accident is different and the impact cannot be truly measured for years. The government does not always tell the truth. Many will never return to their homes. Their lives will be divided into two parts: before and after Fukushima. They'll worry about their health and their children's health. The government will probably say there was not that much radiation and that it didn't harm them. And the government will probably not compensate them for all that they've lost. What they lost can't be calculated.

Read the rest here.

03/22/2011 2:55 PM EDT

Bank Robber Hits Tsunami-Cracked Vault

The Japanese tsunami cracked a vault wide open, leaving a perfect chance for an opportunistic thief. The AP reports:

The earthquake and tsunami that pulverized coastal Japan crippled a bank's security mechanisms and left a vault wide open. That allowed someone to walk off with 40 million yen ($500,000).

The March 11 tsunami washed over the Shinkin Bank, like much else in Kesennuma, and police said between the wave's power and the ensuing power outages, the vault came open.

03/22/2011 2:01 PM EDT

Russia Presses Ahead With Nuclear Plants After Japan Crisis

HuffPost blogger Simon Saradzhyan writes that despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, Russia presses on with it's nuclear program:

While Russian authorities saw the recent calamities in Japan as a chance to initiate a rapprochement with the country, Moscow's overtures to Tokyo have received a cool reception. However, Japan's nuclear crisis nonetheless represents an opportunity for Russian policy-makers to take a fresh look at the country's nuclear energy policies in order to ensure that both existing and future plants are protected against natural or man-made calamities, even those that may still seem unthinkable.

Read the rest here.

03/22/2011 1:08 PM EDT

Reactor Continues To Leak Radiation

While radiation continues to leak from the reactor, the source is known, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. Reports Reuters:

"We continue to see radiation coming from the site ... and the question is where exactly is that coming from?" James Lyons, a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a news conference.

03/22/2011 12:10 PM EDT

National Cherry Blossom Festival Seeks To Aid Japan

Washington, D.C.'s Cheery Blossom Festival will seek to encourage aid to Japan this year. Reports the AP:

Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington are urging people to donate to the American Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Japan ahead of the festival that honors U.S.-Japanese relations.

Festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente says they are working on plans to recognize the tsunami tragedy during the festival, which runs March 26 to April 10.

03/22/2011 11:02 AM EDT

WTO Issues Warning

Reuters reports:

Japan's crisis will have macroeconomic repercussions beyond the country, the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned Tuesday.

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