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Explosion at Japan's quake-hit nuclear plant did not increase radiation leak: Government


FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters)—Radiation leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor on Saturday after an explosion blew the roof off in the wake of a massive earthquake, but the government insisted that radiation levels were low.

The blast at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., raised fears of a meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo as officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the world.

The plant was damaged by Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which sent a 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there had been no major change in the level of radiation after the explosion because it did not occur inside the reactor container. "The nuclear reaction facility is surrounded by a steel storage machine, which is then surrounded by a concrete building. This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode," he told a news conference.

Secretary Edano initially said an evacuation radius of 10 km (6 miles) from the stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture was adequate, but then an hour later the boundary was extended to 20 km (13 miles). TV footage showed vapour rising from the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

The earthquake and tsunami, and now the radiation leak, present Japan's government with its biggest challenge in a generation.

The explosion at Chernobyl's nuclear plant's fourth reactor in 1986 sent thousands of tons of toxic nuclear dust billowing across the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. It was the worst civil nuclear disaster.

The wind at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan that is leaking radiation is blowing from the south, which could affect residents north of the facility, Japan's national weather forecaster said on Saturday. The weather agency said the wind direction may shift later so that it blows from the north west towards the sea.

The direction of the wind is a key factor in judging possible damage on the environment from the radiation leaking from the plant. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the weather on Sunday is likely to be clear, with wind coming from the west and later from the south.

The blast at the Japanese nuclear facility came as plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was working desperately to reduce pressures in the core of the reactor.

After the explosion, Secretary Edano said that TEPCO would fill the leaking reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant with sea water to cool it down and reduce pressure in the unit.

"We've confirmed that the reactor container was not damaged. The explosion didn't occur inside the reactor container. As such there was no large amount of radiation leakage outside," Secretary Edano said. "At this point, there has been no major change to the level of radiation leakage outside (from before and after the explosion), so we'd like everyone to respond calmly."

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