In Japan, Worry — and Confusion — Over Nuclear Risk

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Digital Globe / Reuters

A satellite image shows earthquake and tsunami damage at the Fukushima Daini nuclear plant in Japan on Mar. 12, 2011

There are still serious concerns about potential fallout from Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants. NewsFeed has the latest.

(More on TIME.comSee how Japan is trying to avoid a nuclear disaster.)

Here’s the situation:

Four nuclear power plants were immediately affected by the earthquake and tsunami: Onagawa, Fukushima-Daiichi, Fukushima-Daini, and Tokai. Japan only has 18 nuclear power plants nationwide, with 54 reactors spread throughout them.

As TIME reported this weekend, there was an explosion Saturday at Unit 1 of the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. The news sparked fears of further explosions or a leak of radioactive material, prompting the use of seawater to try and cool the overheating unit.

On Monday morning, there was a second explosion at Unit 3. According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the firm that runs the plant, three people were injured and seven are missing as a result of the blast. The Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, expressed particular concern over Unit 3 because it uses a fuel that contains higher amounts of highly toxic plutonium and other chemicals than any other units.

(More on NewsFeed: See video footage of the explosion at the Fukushima plant.)

The extent of the radiation risk, however, is unclear. People within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius were ordered inside following the explosion, said Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano. But Edano said the reactor’s inner containment vessel holding nuclear rods is intact, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment and public.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates suggesting widening environmental contamination, reports the New York Times. The particles are still being analyzed.

Reports out of Tokyo say foreign embassies are advising their citizens to leave the country. CNN reports the U.S. Navy  have temporarily repositioned ships and planes away from the troubled plant on Monday afternoon, after detecting low level contamination in the air and on its planes in the area.

The damage to the plants has also hurt energy supplies around the country. On Sunday night the Japanese government announced in a press conference that they would start instituting power cuts to ration electricity. Three-hour blackouts were to start Monday in eight prefectures and cities.

Christy Choi contributed to this report.

(More on TIME.comSee how Japan prepares for natural disasters.)

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