TOKYO, March 12 � An explosion at a nuclear power plant in Japan destroyed the building housing the reactor today triggering radiation leaks under the impact of the massive quake and the tsunami it spawned which has left at least 1,700 people dead or unaccounted for, reports PTI.
The radiation leak was low after the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor, Government spokesman Yukio Edano told reporters. The explosion which left four persons injured led to a �nationwide atomic alert�.
Kyodo news agency said the combined number of people who have died or are unaccounted for in yesterday�s double disaster that devastated the country�s north-western coast is feared to top 1,700.
Local media reports said at least 1,300 may have been killed while Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said it was believed that more than 1,000 people had died.
There were fears that the death toll would rise with Fuji TV reporting that as many as 10,000 people were missing in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi. One report said four whole trains had disappeared and still not been located.
The building housing the main reactor at Fukushima nuclear plant in northern Japan, 250 km north of Tokyo, exploded this afternoon leading to radiation leaks injuring four people as the authorities told 45,000 residents living within a 10-km radius of the leaking plant to evacuate their homes, Kyodo reported. The injuries are not life threatening, an official said.
�The plant is experiencing a nuclear meltdown,� Japanese nuclear scientists confirmed, after Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited the site in a helicopter early today.
Kan urged calm among people living near the plant and vowed the government would do its best to protect public health.
�By taking firm measures, we will do our best not to have even a single person, suffer from health problems,� he said.
Reports said the main building of the plant housing the reactor as well as the outer walls were blown away in the high intensity explosion which occurred at 3.30 pm local time (1200 IST) as the cooling water levels dropped alarmingly through evaporation after the quake had damaged the main plant.
�The loss of cooling water is leading to a meltdown of the reactor,� Jiji Press reported.
Radioacative materials� cesium and iodine � were also detected around the No 1 rector of the plant, according to the Nuclear and Industrial safety Agency.
The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 2,100 km stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami packing 23-feet high waves triggered by the massive 8.9 magnitude quake.
TV footage showed smoke billowing from the site and reported that the reactor building had been destroyed. The channels and public broadcasters warned nearby residents to turn off air conditioners and not to drink tap water.
People going outside were told to avoid exposing their skins and to cover faces with masks and wet towels.
Kyodo quoting police said that another nuclear plant adjacent to the one which exploded was also malfunctioning with the radiation level reaching almost 1,000 times the normal level.
The authorities said that an emergency had been declared at all five nuclear reactors as the units had lost cooling ability, as US dispatched plane loads of coolants to the disaster struck nation.
They said that Fukushima, Daiichi plant unit no. 1 had exploded after failing to tamp down heat and pressure inside the reactor which had suffered extensive damaged due to tidal waves set off by the earth quake which cut down the power supply to the plant.
Japan�s Nuclear Safety Agency described the situation at the Fukushima plant dire.
Defence Ministry officials said dozens of troops and fireman trained for chemical disasters had been dispatched to the plant, which is located South of the Miyagi Prefecture which was hardest hit by the quake.
As Japan is one of the most seismically active country in the world, the government met has strict set of regulations designed to limit the impact of quakes on nuclear plants. But even so 10 of the Japan�s 54 commercial reactors were shut down because of the quake.
Meanwhile, four trains running in a coastal area of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures remained unaccounted for, the train operator said.
It is not known how many people were aboard the trains that were running on East Japan Railway Co.�s Ofunato, Senseki and Kesennuma lines on the Pacific coast when the quake hit northern Japan.
The company said earlier that another train on the Senseki Line was found derailed near Nobiru Station after the quake. The Miyagi prefectural police today rescued nine passengers from the train by helicopter, Kyodo said.
The number of partially or completely destroyed buildings reached 3,400, while there 200 incidents of fire at quake-affected areas. Some 181 welfare facilities, including nursing homes, had been damaged.
Around 200 to 300 bodies were found in Sendai�s Wakabayashi Ward, they said. Some 1,800 houses in Fukushima Prefecture were found to have been destroyed.
As rescuers have not been able to completely access the tsunami-hit areas with tsunami warnings still in effect, the overall picture of the destruction remained unclear.
A municipal official of the town of Futaba, Fukushima, said, �More than 90 per cent of the houses in three coastal communities have been washed away by tsunami. Looking from the fourth floor of the town hall, I see no houses standing.�
In the quake-hit areas, around 5.57 million households had lost power, while 600,000 had their water supply cut off.
Nine expressways were closed and at least 312 domestic flights cancelled. The Tokyo police said more than 120,000 people in the capital were unable to return home last evening due to the suspension of train operations and traffic jams.
Rescue teams from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other countries were set to arrive in Japan, after 50 nations offered support following the powerful earthquake, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
In Washington US President Barack Obama called Japanese Prime Minister Kan to offer help.
�First Lady Michelle Obama and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis,� Obama said in a statement.