- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

TOKYO | Officials feared “a radiation leak” early Tuesday after a third explosion rocked one of Japan’s three crippled nuclear reactors, as rescue teams rushed supplies to survivors of Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami and a gruesome tide of bodies washed up on the beaches.

Shigekazu Omukai, a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear-safety agency, said the nuclear core of Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was not damaged in a third explosion, which occurred early Tuesday. The agency suspects that explosion may have damaged the reactor’s suppression chamber, a water-filled tube at the bottom of the container that surrounds the nuclear core, said another agency spokesman, Shinji Kinjo. He said that chamber is part of the container wall, so damage to it could allow radiation to escape.

“A leak of nuclear material is feared,” said Mr. Kinjo. He said the agency had no details of possible damage to the chamber.

Radiation levels measured at the front gate of the Dai-ichi plant spiked after Tuesday’s explosion, Mr. Kinjo said.

Tuesday’s explosion followed two hydrogen explosions at the plant, the latest on Monday, as authorities struggled to prevent the catastrophic release of radiation in the area devastated by a tsunami.

SURVIVOR: A 4-month-old girl was found alive in Ishinomaki on Monday. The baby's parents, who were holed up in their home for three days, had handed the child to soldiers. (Yomiuri Shimbun via Associated Press)
SURVIVOR: A 4-month-old girl was found alive in Ishinomaki on Monday. The ... more >

The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., had said earlier that Tuesday’s explosion occurred near the suppression pool in the reactor’s containment vessel. The pool was later found to have a defect.

Meanwhile, fuel rods at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo, were very “likely” melting, a government spokesman said late Monday. A meltdown poses the potential danger of radioactive gases escaping into the air.

“Although we cannot directly check it, it’s highly likely happening,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

He spoke after a hydrogen explosion had ripped through the building housing a reactor at Unit 3. On Saturday, a similar explosion hit Unit 1. However, officials were most concerned about the exposed fuel rods in Unit 2, where they feverishly pumped in water to cool the reactor.

“Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilized for the time being,” said Ryohei Shiomi of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Agency. “Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention.”

The blast in Unit 3 actually lessened the pressure inside the reactor. The explosion injured 11 plant employees, but left the crucial concrete containment shell over the reactor undamaged.

Meanwhile, hundreds of foreign rescue teams deployed to help Japanese soldiers and aid workers deal with the massive human tragedy from the three-pronged disaster. Millions of survivors have been without food, water or electricity since Friday.

The death toll is expected to hit 10,000, with most of the dead in the Miyagi prefecture at the epicenter of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami, which wiped out whole beach towns with 30-foot-high waves.

On one beach in Miyagi, about 2,000 bodies washed ashore, the Kyodo News agency reported Monday.

Since the earthquake struck Friday, Japan has been rocked by more than 300 powerful aftershocks, with one registering 6.4 magnitude.

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