Update 11.15am Another explosion occurred this morning at Japan’s troubled number 2 reactor, just hours after the plant restarted its attempts to inject seawater to cool the reactor. The blast was heard at 6.10am, with the radiation levels quickly rising above legal levels, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted.

The latest blast “appeared to be different — and more severe,” reports the New York Times, with the biggest concern the location of the explosion. It reportedly occured in the “pressure suppression room,” which is located in the cooling area of the reactor. This raises the possibility of damage to the steel containment vessel of the reactor, the most critical part of the entire plant as it protects the radioactive material . A breach of the containment vessel would result in the release of this material and would result in a full meltdown. It was this same plant that had its nuclear rods dangerously exposed yesterday after the seawater fix temporarily failed.

TimeOut Tokyo magazine are tweeting (in English) what’s happening on Tokyo’s government news channel, NHK. They tweeted the conference by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) announcing the latest explosion, noting how difficult it was to get information and how frustrated journalists were finding it:

@TimeOutTokyo: The reporters seem extremely unsatisfied with TEPCO’s explanation.

@TimeOutTokyo: TEPCO seems at an embarrassing loss for answers. All are just sitting silently, as though they can’t hear the questions.

@TimeOutTokyo: Basically, NISA has said that the explosion is to do with the suppression pool, but TEPCO are being reluctant and hazy about confirming.

@TimeOutTokyo: NHK cuts back to studio. Anchor says, ‘Well, basically we learnt nothing new there.’

@TimeOutTokyo: PM Kan admits that he saw the explosion on TV, but nobody informed him officially for an hour. He tells TEPCO: Pull yourselves together (NHK)

9.30am Engineers in Japan are racing to cool reactors’ cores at Fukushima 1 power plant, after a temporary failure yesterday greatly increased the likelihood of a full meltdown. Keeping the core of the reactor covered in seawater is a critical last-ditch attempt at stopping the rods’ radiation, and authorities admitted that attempts failed yesterday at three of the plant’s reactors. At one reactor, reactor 2, rods were completely exposed, twice.

Officials say all three of the troubled reactors at the plant have suffered partial meltdown. Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan just announced a joint response team with the operators of the failing nuclear power plant, that he will personally lead.

Around 2000 bodies have washed up on the shores of Miyagi, an alarming jump on the several hundred reported yesterday. The death toll is predicted to rise beyond the suggested 10,000 total, with authorities saying it will likely be 10,000 deaths in just the town of Minamisanriku. The government waived a law yesterday which required people to get permission from local authorities before burying or cremating bodies.

This raw footage of Minamisanriku shows the tsunami pouring through the town. For more videos, The Guardian has a round-up of some of the most chilling footage.

Two million homes in the north remain without power. Around 350,000 people have been left homeless. Japan’s central bank will pump US$85 billion into the local economy, with many businesses still remaining closed.

Crikey reader Paul Johannessen writes from Tokyo on the eerie atmosphere:

The toll climbs. The Japan Times reports it now as officially over 5000. The aftershocks are so frequent that I sometimes can’t tell if they are real or just that my legs have begun to constantly vibrate.

Six hours sleep and I feel human again. Still it shakes. Sirens sounding in the streets. Public announcements ringing out. Schools are closed Monday but will open Tuesday. At my son’s daycare, we are told to pack a lunch, as their kitchen will not be operational.

That’s no problem as long as you go to the shops at the correct time to stock up. Local supermarkets were only open for around four hours today. A queue of 50-plus cars waited to get fuel.

A friend has hit Iwaki and Sendai — you can follow him on Twitter. The journalists are starting to arrive up north. Unbelievable forces were at play up there; it is hard to imagine what Tokyo would look like after a quake of the same magnitude and located right underneath us.

Apparently there were some cover-ups of mistakes made at the power plant in the execution of the safety procedures. Empty fuel tanks for the back-up generators and incompatible connections between the mobile generators and the plant are delaying access to power after the batteries failed, and hence the overheating. This is creating doubt in the minds of many as to the true safety of the situation, but on the streets of Tokyo people remain calm.

Strangely though — in amongst the limited train services, access to Narita and the Shinkansen out from Tokyo is limited. Are they trying to keep us here? The authorities say they need to save power, but I can’t help thinking that a mass exodus from Tokyo really is something the authorities don’t want on their hands.

sad article from The Globe and Mail explains the difficult search and rescue process.

The squad of police officers made their way tentatively across what was once the parking lot of the Sendai Army Flight School, poking at the shifting ground beneath their feet with long wooden poles. They used their sticks to prod at the wreckage of lives that had been lifted up by Friday’s tsunami and deposited here on southern edge of this battered city. Splintered homes, flipped cars, a living-room chair, a basketball.

But every now and again, one of the poles would strike something more unsettling: a human being.

“We find them everywhere. In the cars, beneath the rubble. No one knows,” said Sho Oji, who was directing a team of a dozen police officers digging for the dead. He said rescue workers found more than 1,000 bodies in the airport area alone over the past three days.

He was interrupted by a series of shrill whistle blasts. Another body had been found, deep in the sea of detritus. The entire team of police scrambled to the site, hoisting first a green tarp to protect the dignity of the dead, then a stretcher bearing a covered corpse.

Peter Fray

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