Explosion at Japanese nuclear power plant leads to meltdown fears
JAPAN is nervously waiting the ramifications of an explosion at a nuclear power plant last night amid fears it could leak.
"We are now trying to analyse what is behind the explosion," government spokesman Yukio Edano said, warning that people near the Fukushima No. 1 plant, 260km north of Tokyo, should quickly evacuate.
"We ask everyone to take action to secure safety. This is potentially very dangerous."
Four people were injured in the explosion that ripped through the reactor. It was a result of Friday's earthquake and tsunami knocking out power used to pump water to cool the reactor's core.
TV footage showed smoke billowing from the plant.
As radiation leaked from the plant, 45,000 residents around the plant were beginning to evacuate to a 10km safety zone.
Residents were told to avoid exposing their skin, cover their faces with masks and wet towels and avoid all tap water.
Assurance: Damaged nuclear plant 'safe'
Tokyo: Evacuations ordered over radiation fears
Gallery: Japan torn apart
Troubled former AFL star Brendan Fevola asked to leave Crown Casino
Illegal guns are easy to get in Adelaide
Tsunami hits Japan after 8.8-magnitude earthquake strikes
Scott Cam's a hunky chunky chippie
Yuendumu campers sent home to Outback
Further complicating the crisis last night was a magnitude 4 earthquake in the region.
Japanese news agencies said Fukushima plant No. 2 was also malfunctioning with the radiation levels from both reaching almost 1000 times the normal level.
The two nuclear plants affected are in an urban area of 30 million people.
The Tokyo Electric Power released some radioactive vapour at the plants to relieve building reactor pressure.
When Friday's massive quake hit, the plants immediately shut down, along with others in quake-hit parts of Japan, as they are designed to do but the cooling systems failed, the Government said.
The major fear is fuel rods, which create heat through a nuclear reaction, could become exposed and release radioactivity.
When reactors shut down, cooling systems must kick in to bring down the very high temperatures. These systems are powered by either the external electricity grid, back-up generators or batteries. This is key to preventing a "nuclear meltdown" and major radioactive release.
Earlier, Prime Minister Naoto Kan had inspected the power plants to assess the situation.
Military personnel have been dispatched to Fukushima, including a chemical corps and an aircraft on a "fact-finding mission".
Nuclear expert Professor Paddy Regan, of Surrey University, said the explosion was of "considerable concern".
"It's not clear what has exploded. The big problem would be if the pressure vessel has exploded," he said.
"If the pressure vessel, which is the thing that actually holds all the nuclear fuel, if that was to explode - that's basically what happened at Chernobyl - you get an enormous release of radioactive material."
Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely but could not be ruled out. "It's not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl," he said. "I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe. But we need to know more about what happened in there."
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd offered his Japanese counterpart Takeaki Matsumoto whatever expertise the Australian Radiation Protection Nuclear Safety agency could provide to help deal with the problem.
The Federal Ggovernment agency is responsibility for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation (ionising and non-ionising).
"I also indicated we would be providing Japanese language capabilities, as we were sending Japanese language experts with the search and rescue teams, so there are no language problems on the ground," he said.
Former Adelaide resident Antonio Rossi, who now lives in Japan, said watching the explosion on television he could see a "sonic boom".
"You could see it quite graphically," he said.
"Tower one has exploded, it's gone, it's non-existent," Mr Rossi said.