Fukushima, (Japan) The second hydrogen explosion in three days rocked a stricken Japanese nuclear plant Monday, sending a massive cloud of smoke into the air and injuring 11 workers. Hours later, the U.S. said it had shifted its offshore forces away from the plant after detecting low levels of radiation.
The hydrogen explosion further crippled Japan where authorities have been scrambling to avert a meltdown following Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami.
Crucially, the thick walls appear to be intact around the radioactive cores of the damaged reactors in the nuclear power complex north of Tokyo.
Rescue workers are combing the tsunami-battered Northeast for survivors and trying to care for the millions without power or water in Japan’s worst crisis since World War II, which has likely killed at least 10,000 people.
Kyodo news agency reported that 2,000 bodies had been found in two coastal towns alone.
Some analysts said the damage caused by the disaster was so severe and the potential cost was so high that it could even tip Japan’s economy back into recession.
The big fear now is of a major radiation leak from the nuclear complex in Fukushima, 240 km North of Tokyo, where engineers have been battling since the weekend to prevent a meltdown in three reactors.
The core container of the No. 3 reactor was intact after the explosion, the government said, but it warned those still in the 20-km evacuation zone to stay indoors.
The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), said 11 people had been injured in the blast.
“Everything I’ve seen says that the containment structure is operating as it is designed to operate.
“It is keeping the radiation in and it is holding everything in, which is the good news,” said Murray Jennex, of San Diego State University.
A Japanese official said before the blast that 22 people were confirmed to have suffered radiation contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed.
Workers in protective clothing used hand-held scanners to check people arriving at evacuation centres.
U.S. warships and planes helping with relief efforts moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet described the move as precautionary.
Meanwhile, the Singapore food authority announced it would begin testing imported Japanese produce for radiation.
Almost two million households were without power in the north, the government said.
There were about 1.4 million without running water and tens of thousands of people are missing. (Reuters/NAN)