Japan nuclear plant meltdown risk grows as massive rescue operation continues

A massive 8.9-magnitude quake Friday triggered a tsunami along the coastline north of Tokyo. A nuclear reactor was left unstable by the aftershocks, stoking fears of a meltdown.
Compiled by Ian Saleh
Washington Post Staff
Monday, March 14, 2011; 12:07 PM

Explosions at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex have increased fears of a reactor meltdown. As Chico Harlan and Steve Mufson reported:

A second explosion rocked Japan's seaside Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex Monday, this time destroying an outer building at unit 3. A Japanese government official separately said that a third reactor at the six-reactor facility had lost its cooling capacity, adding to the complications facing the engineers who try to limit the damage of a partial meltdown.

The explosion at unit 3 did not damage the core containment structure, and Japanese authorities asserted that there would be little increase in radiation levels around the plant. But the explosion -- a result of hydrogen build-up -- prompted Japan's nuclear agency to warn those within 12 miles to stay indoors and keep air conditioners off. The blast injured 11 people, one seriously.

The string of earthquake- and tsunami-triggered troubles at the Fukushima Daiichi plant began with the failure of the primary and back-up cooling systems, necessary to keep reactors from overheating.

Global markets reacted strongly to the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami. As Howrd Schneider explained:

Japanese stock markets fell more than six percent Monday as the country's manufacturers shuttered plants to assess damage and deal with power shortages, and the nation wrestled with the impact of not only a natural disaster but lingering concerns about nuclear safety.

he Nikkei index of major Tokyo Stock Exchange companies fell sharply in the first full day since the earthquake and tsunami struck Friday.

Worldwide, markets showed a measured response. In the United States, early trading showed the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.5 percent; Standard & Poor's down 0.5 percent; and the Nasdaq composite down 0.3 percent.

Morning trading in Europe showed a modest drop. In Asian markets outside of Japan, there were small gains in China, Hong Kong and South Korea, but drops in Taiwan, Singapore and Australia.

Japan faces a massive rescue operation ahead, as authorities rush to reach survivors of the tsunami. As Chico Harlan reported:

People here are frightened by what they can't see and shocked by what they are seeing. Entire towns have been swamped, and the hardest-hit areas still don't have what they need, according to those in shelters and those organizing relief efforts. There's not enough food, not enough water and, in many places, no heat. Tens of thousands remain missing, beyond the reach of rescue workers.

As the official death toll surpassed 1,000, the police chief of Miyagi Prefecture, among the hardest-hit regions, said Sunday that there is "no question" that at least 10,000 people in the prefecture of 2.3 million are dead. Other prefectures in the northern part of Japan's main Honshu island could face similar tolls.

One Red Cross official said that in the Pacific coast town of Ishinomaki, the local hospital feared it was about to run out of food and milk for babies. Most gas stations along the main roads heading north from Tokyo do still have gas ¿ but lines snake around for several blocks.

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