A meltdown may be occurring at one of the reactors at a damaged nuclear power plant in northeast Japan, a government official said Sunday morning, sparking fears of a widespread release of radioactive material at a time when rescuers are frantically scrambling to find survivors from Japan's strongest-ever earthquake.
A state of emergency has been declared for three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, the same place where an explosion late Saturday injured four people. A meltdown is a catastrophic failure of the reactor core, with a potential for widespread radiation release.
Toshihiro Bannai, an official with Japan's nuclear and industrial safety agency, expressed confidence that efforts to contain the crisis would be successful.
Meanwhile, a second reactor at the same facility failed shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said, according to TV Asahi. The power company said that it was having difficulty cooling the reactor and may need to release radioactive steam in order to relieve pressure.
Meanwhile, another reactor at the same facility failed Sunday morning -- bringing to three the number of units there that are experiencing major problems in cooling radioactive material, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. Officials are working to release radioactive steam in order in order to relieve pressure in the reactor.
So, three reactors have failed, one may be in meltdown right now, the other two could go at any point and everyone's trying to plead for calm, even though the evac radius around the plant is 30 km. At this point the question is of containment, not prevention. If the containment vessel is damaged by either the quake, the pressure buildup from the heat, or the super-hot nuclear fuel itself and containment is lost, it's only a question of how much damage Japan will suffer and how far the radiation travels.
A large chunk of central Japan could be rendered uninhabitable if winds are blowing westward, and that could carry the radioactive particles well into China, and that's just one reactor. If the other two melt down too, we could be talking about a massive catastrophic event.
I'm hoping none of this comes to pass. But it's looking like the question we need to be asking is "how bad will the damage be" and not "can they stop the meltdown".
[UPDATE] CNN is reporting now that officials in Japan are now operating under the assumption that a meltdown has occurred, according to the nation's top Cabinet secretary.
This is beyond awful.
[UPDATE 2] Stratfor is reporting that Japan's nuclear agency is confirming the explosion earlier Saturday could only have been caused by a meltdown. I understand the reasoning behind the obfuscation in a situation where people are already panicked and we're looking at possibly tens of thousands dead, but as I warned earlier today, all signs point to a "how bad will it be" scenario, not a "can we prevent it" scenario.