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A third reactor at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant lost its cooling capabilities today. Technicians are desperately pumping seawater into the containment vessels of the crippled reactors in a last-ditch effort to avoid a full meltdown.
The risky emergency measures at the plant already have resulted in hydrogen explosions in two of the containment structures, releasing radioactivity. A 20 km zone around the Fukushima facility has been evacuated, displacing approximately 250,000 residents of an area with a population of 2 million.
The problem was detected in the plant’s No. 2 reactor today afternoon after an explosion rocked the building containing the plant’s No. 3 reactor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.
“We think that the hydrogen explosion in (the building housing) reactor No. 3 caused the cooling system of reactor No. 2 to stop working,” Edano said.
Water levels were falling and pressure was building up inside the No. 2 reactor, he said, and officials were working on a plan to release gas and also inject seawater into that reactor. Workers have been injecting seawater in a last-ditch effort to cool down fuel rods and prevent a full meltdown at two other reactors at the plant—No. 1 and No. 3—after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami Friday knocked out the reactors’ cooling systems.
Japanese officials have said they believe there may be a partial meltdown in the No. 3 and No. 1 nuclear reactors. Authorities have not yet been able to confirm a meltdown, because it is too hot inside the affected reactors to check. There are six reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, located in northeastern Japan about 65 km (40 miles) south of Sendai.