An explosion at a Japanese nuclear plant triggered fears of a meltdown Saturday, after a massive earthquake and tsunami left more than 1,000 dead and at least 10,000 unaccounted for. As workers doused the stricken reactor with sea water to try to avert catastrophe, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the chaos unleashed by Friday’s 8.9-magnitude quake was an “unprecedented national disaster”.
The quake, one of the biggest ever recorded, unleashed a terrifying 10-metre (33-foot) wave that tore through towns and cities on Japan’s northeastern coast, destroying everything in its path. In the small port town of Minamisanriku alone, some 10,000 people are unaccounted for — more than half the population — public broadcaster NHK reported. Even as Japan struggled to assess the full extent of the devastation, the nation faced an atomic emergency as cooling systems damaged by the quake failed at two nuclear reactors.
Smoke billowed from the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant about 250 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of Tokyo, after an explosion blew off the roof and walls of the structure around the reactor. Radiation leaked from the plant, but the government moved to calm fears of a meltdown, saying that the blast did not rupture the container surrounding the reactor and that radiation levels had fallen afterwards.