MELTDOWN: Residents carry their belongings as they avoid debris at the port area of Tagajo; and, inset, a satellite image of the damage around the Fukushima Dai-Ni nuclear power plant after a tsunami and massive earthquake hit off the coast on March 11 JAPAN battl ed a f eared meltdown of two reactors at a quake-hit nuclear plant yesterday, as the full horror of the disaster emerged on the ravaged northeast coast where more than 10,000 were feared dead.
An explosion at the ageing Fukushima No 1 atomic plant blew apart the building housing one of its reactors on Saturday, a day after the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed a monster 10-metre tsunami.
The a t o mic e mergency widened yesterday as the cooling systems vital for preventing overheating failed at a second reactor and the government warned there was a risk it too could be hit with a blast.
‘‘ There is the possibility of an explosion in the numberthree reactor,’’ Yukio Edano, the top government spokesman, said while voicing confidence it would withstand the blast as the number-one reactor had the day before.
Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said earlier it was highly likely a meltdown had occurred in the first reactor, at the plant situated on the coast 250km northeast of Tokyo.
‘‘ As for the number-three reactor, we are acting on the assumption that it is possible,’’ he said.
Edano said some radiation had escaped, but the levels released into the air had so far not reached levels high enough t o af f ect human health.
Japan’s nuclear industry provides around a third of the nation’s power needs, and the government warned that the shutdown of several reactors may lead to a shortfall in supply that will make power outages necessary.
The colossal 9-magnitude tremor sent waves of mud and debris racing over towns and farming land in Japan’s northeast, destroying all before it and leaving the coast a swampy wasteland.
In the small port town of Minamisanriku alone 10,000 people were unaccounted for – more than half the population of the town, which was practically erased.
The police chief in Miyagi p r e f e c t u r e – w h e r e Minamisanriku is situated – said the death toll was certain to exceed 10,000 in his district.
But in a rare piece of good news, a man who was swept 15km out to sea along with his house by the tsunami was plucked to safety on Sunday after being spotted clinging to a piece of the roof.
Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 60, was discovered by a Japanese destroyer and taken by helicopter to hospital, where he was in surprisingly good health after his miraculous rescue.
As the world’s third-largest economy struggled to assess the full extent of what Prime Minister Naoto Kan called an ‘‘ unprecedented national disaster’’, groups of hundreds of bodies were being found along the shattered coastline. Edano said at least 1000 people were believed to have lost their lives, and police said more than 215,000 people were huddled in emergency shelters.
The massive earthquake, one of the largest in recorded history, appears to have shifted the main Japanese island by 2.4 metres, the US Geological Survey said.