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The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan worsened considerably in the past 24 hours. Japanese officials have indicated that partial meltdowns have taken place in reactors No. 2 and No.3, and the damaged fuel rods are spewing highly radioactive steam into the atmosphere through breaches in their inner containment vessels, which are made of steel encased in concrete.
The remaining skeleton crew battling the meltdowns at the Fukushima complex was temporarily evacuated from the site due to the high radiation levels, which also forced authorities to postpone an attempt to bombard the damaged plants with water and boric acid dropped from helicopters.
Concerns also continued to mount for 80 tons of spent fuel rods that are stored in a pool directly under the roof of reactor No. 4’s square outer building. There is no containment vessel encasing the spent fuel, which was seen to catch fire two days ago.
The current weather pattern over Fukushima appears to be blowing most of the radioactive steam out over the ocean to the east. However, meteorologists are predicting that this pattern will shift over the weekend, possibly pushing the steam to the southwest in the direction of Tokyo, which is approximately 170 miles to the south of the Fukushima complex.
Japanese authorities have ordered everyone within a 20 mile radius of the nuclear complex to evacuate. They have called upon residents who live between 20 and 30 miles from the crippled power station to stay in the home and seal all windows. Officials say they have stockpiled thousands of iodine tablets for distribution if the situation worsens.
The government of Japan reportedly has asked the U.S. military to assist with the damage-control operation at Fukushima. Meanwhile, the emperor of Japan made a rare appearance on Japanese television asking the nation to “remain calm.”
The Fukushima disaster has prompted frantic reviews of nuclear power facilities throughout Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced yesterday that seven of the oldest nuclear power plants in Germany will be shut down immediately and checked for safety.
The effects of the catastrophe continue to weigh heavily on the Japanese economy. The Japanese stock market has lost about 14 percent of its value since the earthquake and tsunami hit last Friday. Major Japanese manufacturers have been forced to suspend production due to a severe shortage of electricity. With most of the island nation’s nuclear power grid offline, the government has initiated brownouts to conserve power. Nuclear energy is Japan’s largest source of power, supplying more than 35 percent of its electricity.