A meltdown may have occurred at at least one nuclear power reactor in Japan, the country’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said Sunday, adding that authorities are concerned about the possibility of another meltdown at a second reactor.
"We do believe that there is a possibility that meltdown has occurred. It is inside the reactor. We can’t see. However, we are assuming that a meltdown has occurred," he said about the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.
"And with reactor No. 3, we are also assuming that the possibility of a meltdown as we carry out measures," Edano said.
Edano’s comments confirm an earlier report from an official with Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, who said, "we see the possibility of a meltdown."
"There is a possibility, we see the possibility of a meltdown," said Toshihiro Bannai, director of the apan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency international affairs office, in a telephone interview from the agency’s headquarters in Tokyo. "At this point, we have still not confirmed that there is an actual meltdown, but there is a possibility."
Japanese officials took the extraordinary step on Saturday of flooding a crippled nuclear reactor with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown, as the nation grappled simultaneously with its worst nuclear mishap and the aftermath of its largest recorded earthquake.
A radiation leak and explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Saturday prompted the government to expand an evacuation order to affect 170,000 people in the plant’s vicinity. And the plant’s operator issued an emergency notice early Sunday morning that a second reactor at the same aging plant was also experiencing critical failures of its cooling system and that rising pressure there risked a new explosion.
The government said radiation emanating from the first reactor appeared to be decreasing after the blast Saturday afternoon destroyed part of the facility, and they said that they had filled it with sea water to prevent full meltdown of the nuclear fuel.
Japanese officials are issuing broad evacuation orders for people living near two nuclear power plants whose cooling systems have collapsed as a result of the earthquake, The New York Times reported.
Small amounts of radioactive material are now likely to lead from the plants.
The two plants, known as Daiichi and Daini experienced critical failures of the backup generators needed to power cooling systems after the plants were shut down, as they were during the quake.
An estimated 45,000 people are now being evacuated from around the Daiichi plant, where those living within a six-mile radius were told to leave. The evacuation of the second plant was for a one-mile radius because “there is no sign that radiation has been emitted outside,” an official said.
The cooling system failure allowed pressure to build up beyond the design capacity of the reactors. Radioactive vapor was expected to be released into the atmosphere to prevent damage to the containment systems, safety officials said. But officials say that the levels of radiation were not large enough to threaten the health of people outside the plants, and that the evacuations had been ordered merely as a precaution.