Blast at Nuclear Plant Triggers Radiation Leaks, Evacuations

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Early Tuesday morning, problems at the plagued Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant only worsened as the fear of radiation leaks became frighteningly real.

Late Monday night, plant workers and inspectors noted that the Unit 2 reactor was damaged at the base of its containment vessel. At approximately 6 a.m. on Tuesday, there was an explosion at the reactor, the most severely affected of three impaired reactors at the plant, spiking radiation levels. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety spokesman said that the resulting radiation leaks are now severe enough to pose a significant threat to people’s health.

In addition, the fourth reactor at Fukushima-Daiichi caught on fire, releasing even more radiation. The flames have since been extinguished. According to Reuters, “minute levels” of radiation have been detected in Tokyo. There have also been reports that Tokyo residents are being urged by the government to stay indoors. In the nearby city of Saitama, radiation levels were 40 times above normal.

Eight hundred staffers employed by the plant were evacuated, though an emergency crew of 50 was left behind to work on its emergency cooling system.

If all of the plant workers leave, there is a heightened risk of the nuclear reactors melting down, the New York Times reports. The current situation is the first nuclear incident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that has attracted such widespread concern. It is undoubtedly Japan’s largest nuclear crisis since the WWII atomic bombing of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In a televised address to the nation at 11 a.m., Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke of the high-pressure situation. Kan advised people within 19 miles of the affected power plant to stay indoors and keep their windows closed. According to the Associated Press, some 180,000 people within a 12-mile radius had already been evacuated.

“There is a very high risk of further radioactive leaks,” he said.”I ask you to stay calm.”