Explosion at Japanese nuclear station following quake

18:02, Mar 13 2011
The area is flooded by tsunami in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture (state) as Japan was struck by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off its northeastern coast.
An area is flooded by tsunami in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture (state) as Japan was struck by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off its northeastern coast.
Japan earthquake 11/03
People at a book store react in Sendai, northern Japan.
People at a book store react in Sendai, northern Japan as an earthquake hits Friday.
People at a book store react in Sendai, northern Japan as an earthquake hits Friday.
Japan earthquake 11/03
Reporters at the Associated Press Tokyo Bureau in Tokyo take shelter under a table while a strong earthquake strikes eastern Japan.
Japan tsunami 11/03
A tsunami carries buildings (bottom) across water in Sendai.
Japan tsunami 11/03
A tsunami carries boats across waters in Kamaishi city port.
Japan quake
An office building burns in Tokyo after the earthquake.
Japan quake
People take shelter as a ceiling collapses in a bookstore during an earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan.
Japan quake
Rescue workers hurry to a building following reports of injuries in Tokyo's financial district.
Japan quake
A building burns after an earthquake in the Odaiba district of Tokyo.
Japan quake
Hundreds of Oahu residents flocked to the Times Supermarket to purchase water and supplies in Hawaii.
Japan quake
In this video image taken from Japan's NHK TV, ships and boats are washed ashore in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefectur.
Japan quake
In this image made off Japan's NHK TV video footage, houses are washed away by the tsunami in Sendai, Eastern Japan.
Japan quake
In this image made off Japan's NHK TV video footage, houses are washed away by the tsunami in Sendai, Japan.
Japan quake
In this image made off Japan's NHK TV video footage, vehicles are washed away by the tsunami in a coastal area of eastern Japan.
Japan quake
People walk past a ruined bus stop which was crushed by part of fallen outer wall of a nearby building in Sendai, Japan.
Japan quake
Giant fireballs rise from a burning oil refinery in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture.
Japan quake
Part of houses swallowed by tsunami burn in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.
Japan quake
A person on the third floor of a Japanese airport photographs damage and debris.
Japan quake
Houses swept away by a tsunami smoulder near Sendai Airport.
Japan quake
Natural gas storage tanks burn at a facility in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo.
Japan quake
An aerial view of a tsunami swamped Sendai Airport in northeastern Japan
Japan quake
A truck is stuck on a road crack after a powerful earthquake in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Japan quake
A fire burns at a passenger terminal at Sendai Airport after the airport was swamped by the tsunami in northeastern Japan.
Japan quake
Residents walk through rubble residents after a powerful earthquake in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture.
Japan quake
Black smoke rises from a building in Tokyo's Odaiba bay area.
Japan quake
In this video image taken from Japan's NHK TV, a wave from the tsunami heads to the coast in Miyagi Prefecture on the north east coast of Japan.
Japan quake
Waves of the tsunami hit residences in Natori, Miyagi prefecture.
Japan quake
In this video image taken from Japan's NHK TV, a wave from the tsunami sweeps boats inland in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.
Japan quake
A technician at the French National Seism Survey Institute , points at a graph showing the Japan earthquake.
Japan quake
Women wait on the street after evacuating a building following an earthquake in Tokyo.
Japan quake
Houses swept out to sea burn following the tsunami.
Japan quake
Light planes and vehicles sit among the debris after they were swept by a tsumani that struck Sendai airport in northern Japan.
Japan quake
Houses are in flame while the Natori river is flooded by tsunami tidal waves in Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan.
Japan quake
Houses and cars are swept out to sea in Kesennuma city.
Japan quake
A building swept by a tsunami is pictured in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Japan quake
Tsunami swirls near a port in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Japan quake
Flames rise from an oil refinery after a powerful earthquake in Ichihara, Chiba prefecture.
Japan quake
Earthquake-triggered tsumanis sweep shores along Iwanuma in northern Japan.
Japan quake
Buildings burn after an earthquake near Sendai Airport, northeastern Japan.
Buildings burn following an earthquake in Yamada town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Buildings burn following an earthquake in Yamada town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Fishing boats are swept by a tsunami in Oarai City in Ibaragi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Fishing boats are swept by a tsunami in Oarai City in Ibaragi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
Houses lie flattened after a powerful earthquake in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.
Houses lie flattened after a powerful earthquake in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.
Passengers sleep at a lobby as they wait for their transportation at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, March 12, 2011.
Passengers sleep at a lobby as they wait for their transportation at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, March 12, 2011.
Earthquake in Japan
Damage is seen in Ofunato city in Iwate prefecture in Japan.
Ofunato city in Iwate prefecture
Cracks are seen in roads after an earthquake hit Satte in Japan.
Japan earthquake
The devastation caused by the Japanese earthquake is evident.
Japanese earthquake
Ruben Chavez, a resident, helps Ecuadoreans to evacuate from Santa Elena, a coastal city bordering the Pacific Ocean in Ecuador.
japan quake
A light aircraft and vehicles swept by the tsunami are seen in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture.
Japan quake
Buildings swept by a tsunami following an earthquake are seen in Miyagi Prefecture.
japan quake
A building swept under a bridge following a tsunami and earthquake is seen in Sendai, northeastern Japan.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
Five nuclear reactor units at the Fukushima nuclear plant are in a state of emergency.
Ship near Sendai
A ship lifted up onto shore after an earthquake and tsunami is seen in Sendai.
Miyagi Prefecture
People, in a floating container, are rescued from a building following an earthquake and tsunami in Miyagi Prefecture.
Energy map
An energy map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the intensity of the tsunami in the Pacific Ocean caused by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake.
Japan earthquake
An SOS sign is drawn on the grounds of a school in Minami Sanrikucho in Miyagi Prefecture.
Japan quake
Houses are in flame while the Natori river is flooded over the surrounding area by tsunami tidal waves in Natori city.
japan earthquake
Washed out vehicles are mingled with landslide and debris in Minami Soma, Fukushima, northern Japan.
Woman and child in Iwate prefecture
A woman and child in Iwate prefecture after the Japan quake and tsunami.
Evacuees
Evacuees from the area of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant take refuge in an evacuation center in an elementary school in Namie
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A resident is rescued from debris in Natori, Miyagi, northern Japan.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A soldier carries an elderly man on his back to a shelter in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A combination picture of satellite images taken by Taiwan's National Space Organisation shows Japan's Sendai area before the earthquake and tsunami.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A picture taken from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter shows the central part of the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
People evacuate with small boats down a road flooded by the tsunami waves in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
Soldiers walk on debris scattered across the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A building stands in the rubble in Rikuzentakata, northern Japan after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami struck the area.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
A man rides a motorbike past an overturned squid-fishing boat tossed onto land by a tsunami in Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
Rescue workers search for victims in the rubble in Rikuzentakata, northern Japan after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami struck the area.
Japanese earthquake, tsunami aftermath
Buildings destroyed by a tsunami are pictured in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan.
Residents return into the restricted area to look at their quake-damaged homes in Miyagi prefecture.
Residents return into the restricted area to look at their quake-damaged homes in Miyagi prefecture.

A Japanese nuclear power plant has exploded, a day after a massive earthquake damaged the facility's cooling system. Residents have been warned to stay indoors.

Japanese media said an explosion blew the roof off the reactor, raising fears of a disastrous meltdown at the earthquake-struck Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Officials say hundreds have been injured and hundreds more are missing after yesterday's magnitude 8.9 quake triggered a tsunami up to 10-metres high, devastating the country's northeastern coast. It is feared more than 1300 people are dead.

Ring of Fire
RING OF FIRE: An area where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean.

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Four people were injured in the explosion that occurred at the No. 1 reactor, Kyodo News reported, and followed large tremors.

Nuclear authorities had earlier warned that the Fukushima No 1 plant, located about 250km northeast of Tokyo, an urban area of 30 million people, "may be experiencing a nuclear meltdown".

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The plant's cooling system was damaged in the quake that hit on Friday, leaving the government scrambling to fix the problem and evacuate more than 45,000 residents within a 10km radius.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that a blast had been heard at about 3:30pm (local time) and showed delayed footage of smoke billowing from the site, also reporting that the reactor building had been destroyed.

TV channels warned nearby residents to stay indoors, turn off air-conditioners and not to drink tap water. People going outside were also told to aviod exposing their skin and to cover their faces with masks and wet towels.

The UN nuclear watchdog said it was urgently seeking information from the country's authorities following the reports.

"We are aware of the media reports and we are urgently seeking further information," the IAEA official told Reuters.

The blast came as plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) worked desperately to reduce pressures in the core of the reactor that, if not contained, could lead to a release of radiation into the atmosphere.

Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said an explosion would be a "physical shock" to the plant that could increase the danger of a breach of the containment and of radioactivy getting out.

"We don't have any information from inside the plant. That is the problem in this case," he said.

"If it melts down the probability that there would be a breach or that radiation would get outside of the plant because of weakness of the structure of the plant ... is much greater," Hibbs said.

Meanwhile Japan is pushing 50,000 rescue staff into quake and tsunami-devastated areas as officials warn they expect the death toll to "rise greatly".

The tsunami today reached Pacific nations, with at least five people swept out to sea and docks ripped from their moors in California. However, there was limited damage elsewhere.

Japan mobilised 50,000 military and other rescue personnel Saturday, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano warned the number of dead would "rise greatly''.

The United States, with almost 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, sent aircraft carriers to waters off the disaster zone as the relief effort gathered pace.

On the east coast of Japan's main island, Honshu, where at least 3,600 houses were destroyed, there were some hope as army helicopters airlifted people off the roof of an elementary school in Watari, Miyagi prefecture.

Miraculously, naval and coastguard choppers rescued 81 people from a ship that had been dragged out to sea by the tsunami.

NUCLEAR THREAT

Earlier operators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant's Unit 1 scrambled to take down heat and pressure inside the reactor after quake and tsunami that followed cut off electricity to the site and disabled emergency generators, knocking out the main cooling system.

Some 3000 people within three kilometres of the plant had already been urged to leave their homes, but the evacuation zone was more than tripled to 10 kilometres after authorities detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1's control room.

Japan declared states of emergency today for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement earlier that diesel generators that normally would have kept cooling systems running at Fukushima Daiichi had been disabled by tsunami flooding.

A pregnant New Zealander living nearby earlier said she feared one of the plants would explode.

Jayne Nakata - Jayne Lark until she married a Japanese man - said one of the plants was about 50km from her home.

"If there was a large explosion we would be affected here,'' she said today.

Radiation levels inside the plant had increased 1000 times above the norm, although authorities said levels outside the facility's gates were only eight times above normal, which meant there was "no immediate health hazard''.

While some radiation leakage could be expected, Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said a major radioactive disaster was not likely.

''Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3km radius,'' he said.

HELPING HANDS

The unfolding disaster prompted offers of search and rescue help from 45 countries, including New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key said 48 New Zealand search and rescue staff would be on the ground in Japan by the end of Sunday.

China said rescuers were ready to help with quake relief while President Barack Obama told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan the US would assist in any way.

Japanese politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief efforts after Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked them to "save the country," Kyodo news agency reported. Japan is already the most heavily indebted major economy in the world, meaning any funding efforts would be closely scrutinised by financial markets.

Domestic media said the death toll was expected to exceed 1300, most of whom appeared to have drowned by churning waters after the mid-afternoon earthquake.

FIRES ACROSS THE COAST

The quake sparked at least 80 fires in cities and towns along the coast, Kyodo said.

Power plants and oil refineries were shut down and one refinery was ablaze. Television footage showed an intense fire in the waterfront area near Sendai.

Auto plants, electronics factories and refineries shut, roads buckled and power to millions of homes and businesses was knocked out. Several airports, including Tokyo's Narita, were closed and rail services halted. All ports were shut.

Warnings were issued for countries to the west of Japan and across the Pacific as far away as Colombia and Peru, but the tsunami dissipated as it sped across the ocean and the worst fears in the Americas were not realised.

BIGGEST OF ALL

The quake surpasses the Great Kanto quake of September 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.

The 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history. Economic damage from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was estimated at about $10 billion.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas.

- Reuters, AP and NZPA

Video sourced by: Marc Bailey