Troubles Mount at Quake-Stricken Japanese Nuclear Reactor

Residents buy food at a temporarily opened supermarket in Sendai, northeastern Japan March 14, 2011. 
Officials are struggling to cool down three nuclear reactors in the earthquake-stricken northeast of Japan Monday to prevent a possible meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
They said the overheated fuel rods in one reactor have been exposed twice.

Workers at the plant have been pumping in seawater into the reactor to cool the rods and keep them from melting, but the heat was evaporating the water off.

Top government spokesman Yukio Edano had said earlier Monday after the rods had been exposed for a first time, that the cooling would proceed, and hopefully stabilize the situation”

Earlier Monday, an explosion blew the roof and outer walls off another reactor at the same plant, the second such explosion since Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

An official of the Tokyo Electric Power Company which operates the power plant told Japan’s NHK television he could "not deny" that fuel rods in the second reactor had been exposed.

If the heat from a meltdown ruptures the reactor’s containment vessel, it could permit a major release of radiation with serious health consequences.

Almost 200,000 people have already been evacuated from areas around Fukushima and other troubled nuclear power stations. About 600 people still in homes near the Fukushima plant were advised to remain indoors.

A first explosion at one of the three reactors took place Saturday. Officials say that neither that blast nor Monday’s explosion broke through the containment vessels, and they did not believe there had been a major release of radiation.

Engineers have also vented steam from the plants to release a build-up of pressure. Hydrogen in the steam is believed to have mixed with oxygen, causing the two explosions.

While concerns focused on the nuclear crisis, a massive rescue and relief effort continued Monday, as millions of people faced a fourth night without heat or food.

The total death toll from the quake and tsunami is expected to reach more than 10,000.

Newly-released images of the disaster released Monday on Japanese television showed how the waters swept inland, crushing houses, cars, boats as witnesses cried out in fear.
Raw video of Friday's tsunami
The search for survivors
About 100,000 Japanese troops, backed by relief teams from more than a dozen countries, are searching for survivors in the debris of Friday's earthquake and tsunami, which reduced whole towns and villages to rubble.  Power shortages and massive damage to infrastructure are complicating efforts to reach the hardest-hit areas.

More than 1,000 bodies were found Monday along the shores of one northeastern province, and the Kyodo news agency said another 1,000 bodies were found at a second location in hard-hit Miyagi province.
The official death toll, according to Japanese television, is at 1,898, but there are thousands more still missing.
Markets tumble
In Tokyo, residents returned to shops and offices at the start of a new work week, coping with rolling blackouts and reduced transit service as authorities deal with limited power-generating capacity. Fears that industrial production will be disrupted helped push the main stock index to its lowest levels since November.

The International Skating Union on Monday announced that the 2011 World figure Skating Championships that were to take place in Tokyo on March 21-27 have been postponed. Japan has also called off all of the country's J-League soccer games.

There is no electricity at all in vast stretches of the northeast region, where tens of thousands of homeless residents are huddled in shelters. Relief crews are rushing to provide food and water, but are hard-pressed to reach many of those in greatest need. In the heavily-damaged city of Sendai, thousands are without power or water.

The commander of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which has been assisting in relief efforts from about 160 kilometers offshore, said the American fleet had moved away from the Fukushima plant after low levels of radiation were detected on 17 crewmen. He said the radiation was easily washed off.

Two U.S. search-and-rescue teams with 144 staff and 12 dogs were among the teams that began clawing through the ruins at first light Monday in search of survivors.  A 15-member Chinese team was also at work and Japan's Kyodo news agency said the Defense Ministry will activate reserves to assist in relief operations, the first time it has ever done so.

Friday's earthquake had a magnitude of 8.9, making it the most powerful ever recorded in Japan and the fifth strongest since 1900.

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