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NY TIMES: "Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to statements from Japanese government and industry officials." »

And the Times relays this extraordinary act of selflessness:

Engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, on Tuesday continued efforts to cool down the most heavily damaged unit, reactor No. 2, by pumping in seawater. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while crews battled to put out the fire at the No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.

…Radiation measurements reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant that made the leakage significantly worse than it had been, with levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Even 7 minutes of exposure at that level will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at an American nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday that there is a high risk of elevated levels of radiation from a reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant where an explosion occurred earlier in the day, and urged people within 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors.

"Substantial amounts of radiation are leaking in the area," Mr. Kan said on television at 11 a.m. in Tokyo. "We are making utmost efforts to prevent further explosions or the release of radioactive materials," he said.

Early Tuesday morning local time, authorities said that an explosion inside part of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant appeared to have caused damage to the unit, and some staff were evacuated from the facility as radiation levels at the site rose sharply.

Mr. Kan began his address by asking people to be calm about the situation. He said that the government is doing everything it can to prevent further radiation leaks.

The Daiichi plant, located 160 miles northeast of Tokyo, was brought down by Friday’s massive earthquake, which automatically shuts off the power generation by the reactors, while the tsunami damaged the generators designed to supply backup power.

"Kan Warns of High Radiation Levels," from the Wall St. Journal

NY TIMES: "Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared immiment, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments." »

How no one thought this was a possibility should be beyond the comprehension of any sane, normal human being.

Prayers for the people of Japan, right now.

Post-earthquake Japan, by the numbers -- March 14: »

  • By Monday afternoon, the toll stood at more than 1,800 confirmed dead and 2,300 missing. Police officials, however, said it was certain that more than 10,000 had died.
  • Some 350,000 people have reportedly become homeless and were staying in shelters.
  • The loss of utility service from the Fukushima nuclear power plants has led to rotating blackouts across the region to conserve electricity — the first controlled power cuts in Japan in 60 years.
  • Six commuter train lines featuring Japan’s famous shinkansen, or bullet trains, were not running. Six major department stores also closed for the day because staffers were unable to reach the city.
  • Japan’s $5 trillion economy, the third-largest in the world, was threatened with severe disruptions and partial paralysis, and the collective anxiety caused a rout in the Japanese stock market. The main Nikkei index fell 6.2 percent in Monday’s trading, the worst drop in three years. The broader Topix, or Tokyo Stock Price index, dropped 7.4 percent.
  • The Bank of Japan pumped about $180 billion into the economy on Monday, and the government considered an emergency tax increase to help finance relief and recovery work.
  • The United States Geological Survey recorded 96 aftershocks on Sunday.
  • The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, in Japan to help aid with search and rescue, reportedly sailed through a radioactive plume on Saturday; at least 17 crewmembers were exposed.