WAKI, Japan â€“ Â Japanese officials have confirmed a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — one of two such plants crippled by a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that has caused widespread damage throughout the region.
Officials confirmed some fuel rods inside the plant were exposed after water cooling systems failed at five reactors within the two crippled power plants.
An explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi facility on Saturday tore down the walls of a building, as plumes of white smoke were seen billowing from a blast site.
Japan’s nuclear agency said serious damage to a reactor at the plant was “unlikely,” Kyodo news agency reports.
Friday’s double disaster, which pulverized Japan’s northeastern coast, has left 574 people dead by official count, although local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.
Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers had suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital. A nuclear expert said a meltdown may not pose widespread danger.
Footage on Japanese TV showed that the walls of the reactor’s building had crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing. Puffs of smoke were spewing out of the plant in Fukushima, 20 miles from Iwaki.
“We are now trying to analyze what is behind the explosion,” saidÂ government spokesman Yukio Edano, stressing that people should quickly evacuate a six-mile radius. “We ask everyone to take action to secure safety.”
The trouble began at the plant’s Unit 1 after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned knocked out power there. According to official figures, 586 people are missing and 1,105 injured. In addition, police said between 200 and 300 bodies were found along the coast in Sendai, the biggest city in the area near the quake’s epicenter.
The true scale of the destruction was still not known more than 24 hours after the quake since washed-out roads and shut airports have hindered access to the area. An untold number of bodies were believed to be buried in the rubble and debris.
In another disturbingÂ development that could substantially raise the death toll, Kyodo news agency said rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines on Friday and still had not found them by Saturday afternoon.
East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard the trains.
Adding to worries was the fate of nuclear power plants. Japan has declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability.
The most troubled one, Fukushima Dai-ichi, is facing meltdown, officials have said.
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