Monday, March 14, 2011

Fresh blast at Japan nuclear plant

At least 11 injured as new explosion rocks quake-hit Fukushima plant, sparking radioactive fears amid nuclear crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera

A new explosion rocked Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, sending a plume of smoke into the air and touching off fresh concerns of radioactive leak in the quake and tsunami-hit country.

Tokyo Electric Power Co [TEPCO], the plant operator, in a press release on Monday said, it was believed to be a hydrogen explosion at the plant's No.3 reactor and that 11 workers were injured. The blast was similar to an earlier one at a different unit at the facility.

However, TEPCO said radiation levels were within the legal limits at 10.65 microsieverts, significantly under the 500 microsieverts at which a nuclear operator is legally bound to file a report to the government, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The compnay added that the impact of radioactive materials to the outside environment are presently under investigation.

More than two hours after the blast on Monday, officials have found themselves battling another emergency.

Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi said the cooling system at reactor number two has failed, leading to a build-up of pressure in the containment vessel. That is the same problem units one and three encountered before they exploded.

Three reactors had already been in danger of overheating in the Japanese town of Fukushima which has caused huge amount of concern. But Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary said that a large-scale radiation leak was unlikely.

Edano said the reactor's inner containment vessel holding the nuclear fuel rods was intact, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment.

Meanwhile, at Fukushima plant, the work to cool the reactors with a mixture of seawater and boric acid continues – an untested method, underscoring the desperate nature of the situation.

Experts have said it could be days before temperature levels can be brought down and if that fails, the fuel rods in the reactors could melt, and radioactive material released.

The Japanese government may say its nuclear emergency is under control, but the explosion at reactor number three proves Japan’s nuclear crisis is far from over.

Humanitarian crisis

The humanitarian crisis is deepening too, with thousands of people still missing as a result of Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Foreign aid has began to arrive. Some 70 countries have offered assistance, with help coming not only from allies like the United States but also countries with more strained relations like China, and even from the Afghan city of Kandahar.

A US naval ship is being used to help send out supplies and an aircraft carrier is also on its way to help.

Rescue teams from more than a dozen countries searched ravaged northeastern coastal cities for survivors, as an international effort to help Japan cope with its multiple disasters gathered pace.

According to media reports, rescue workers on Monday found two thousand bodies in Miyagi province, one of the hardest hit regions

Millions of people spent a third night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the devastated northeastern coast.

People around the area, already ravaged by earthquake and tsunami, are worried at the prospects of a nuclear radiation.

"I am due to give birth soon, I want to know exactly what is going on at the nuclear plant. I am scared," said a woman.

"I do not understand the technical side of it at all but I am scared because I can see the radiation."

Twenty people have tested positive for radiation exposure and that number looks likely to rise.

In many areas there is no running water, no power and four- to five-hour waits for gasoline. People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.

“People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming,'' Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate prefecture, said.

Meanwhile, a tsunami alert, which had sparked alarm and local evacuation orders, has been lifted, according to an official in the Fukushima prefecture.

"There is no more fear of a tsunami at this moment, but we will continue to ask our residents to remain vigilant to future advisories," the official said.

Stock market plunges

And the Japanese markets, which opened for the first time since the disaster occurred, reacted badly.

Share prices dropped sharply by more than five per cent within the first hour of trading on Monday. Moving quickly to try to keep financial markets stable, the Bank of Japan said it will inject approximately $183bn into the money market to try to bring some stability.

All this leaves Japan facing its worst crisis since the second world war, according to the country's prime minister, Naoto Kan

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