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Explosion destroys building at nuclear power plant in Japan

Japanese officials said the blast destroyed the building but that the reactor housing was still intact.

By Eric Talmade and Yuri KageymaThe Associated Press / March 12, 2011

This video still shows smoke rising from Unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture in Japan on Saturday.

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Iwaki, Japan

An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor, but a radiation leak was decreasing despite fears of a meltdown from damage caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, officials said.

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Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.

That was welcome news for a country suffering from Friday's double disaster that pulverized the northeastern coast, leaving at least 574 people dead by official count.

IN PICTURES: Japan's 8.9 earthquake

The scale of destruction was not yet known, but there were grim signs that the death toll could soar. One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.

Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased. He did not say why radiation was that was so.

Officials have not given specific radiation readings for the area, though they said they were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.

Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates.

The pressure in the reactor was also decreasing after the blast, he said.

The explosion was preceded by puff of white smoke that gathered intensity until it became a huge cloud enveloping the entire facility, located in Fukushima, 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Iwaki. After the explosion, the walls of the building crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame.

Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital.

"We have confirmed that the walls of this building were what exploded, and it was not the reactor's container that exploded," said Edano.

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, depriving it of its cooling system.

The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami, packing 23-feet (7-meter) high waves.

It swept inland about six miles (10 kilometers) in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars, trees and everything else.

"The tsunami was unbelievably fast," said Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver who was inside his sturdy four-ton rig when the wave hit the port town of Sendai.
"Smaller cars were being swept around me," he said. "All I could do was sit in my truck."

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