According to NHK, at 2014 hours (local Japan Time) on March 12,”The prefectural government of Fukushima has expanded the evacuation area around Fukushima Number 1 Power Station from an earlier established 10-kilometer radius to a 20-kilometer radius. (10km = 6.21 miles)
The decision was made at the instruction of the prime minister’s office shortly before 6:30 PM, local time, at a nuclear disaster task force meeting on Saturday… It is maintaining an evacuation instruction for a 10-kilometer radius around the Number 2 Power Station.
The status of the Fukushima plant is treacherous. This is fast breaking news. A reasonable summary of the context and issues is available from the Daily Yomiuri online. Early Sunday morning Japan time, Nikkei is reporting, “The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said… the explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core. Tokyo Electric Power Co, which runs the plant, began to flood the damaged reactor with seawater to cool it down, resorting to measures that could rust the reactor and force the utility to scrap it.” At about 1330 hours Eastern The Guardian posted a comprehensive update on the nuclear emergency.
By Saturday mid-afternoon US Eastern time — very early Sunday in Japan — news reports on the status of the nuclear emergency are mixed. Several mainstream outlets, including the The Guardian and New York Times, seem to suggest the nuclear core is being successfully cooled and the threat is likely to recede.
SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: Emergency operations continue at Fukushima 1 and 2 and at other Japanese nuclear power stations. Reporters with The Economist, blogging from Tokyo write, “Overnight, the cooling system at the third reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant failed, and on March 13th Kyodo news agency cited the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), as saying that three metres of a Mox nuclear-fuel rod had been left above the water level. That raises the risk of a meltdown of the core reactor, which could lead to a nuclear catastrophe.”
Late Sunday night in Japan, NHK is reporting, “Cooling system problems continue to plague two nuclear plants in earthquake-hit Fukushima Prefecture. The level of coolant water in the Number Three reactor at the Fukushima Number One power plant dropped on Sunday, leaving the fuel rods exposed by two meters. The situation continued for at least until 3pm, possibly causing a partial melting of the rods. As a result, masses of hydrogen gas have accumulated in the inside top of the reactor building. The gas may cause an explosion similar to that which occurred at the Number One reactor on Saturday.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, posting at 0750 Eastern on March 12, “Friday’s giant earthquake and tsunami have caused hardship for many Japanese in the past few days. Those who live and work near the star-crossed Fukushima nuclear power facility have borne an even greater burden.
Many evacuees left their homes for a refugee center located in a seaside town in the shadow of the two plants, known as Fukushima No. 1 and Fukushima No. 2.
But then, as the reactor struggled to contain damage from the tsunami, the local government urged them to another facility 10 kilometers away from the plant. Later that evening, after an explosion at the plant, the central government asked them to relocate again—this time 20 kilometers away.
A contingent of about a dozen or so senior town officials stayed behind at the makeshift facility in Tomiokamachi, which had run out of food and water earlier in the day. After watching a group of mostly younger officials prepare to depart, they grimly donned bright yellow protective body suits with air intake hoods at about 3:15pm local time.
Two of these officials spoke with The Wall Street Journal, whose reporters left with the last group of evacuees, mostly lower-level municipal employees.
“What else is there to say?” said Hideo Sato, department head of general affairs for the town. “You had better leave now.”
The town had been overwhelmed by a record 8.9-magnitude earthquake, followed by a seven-meter tsunami 30 minutes later, and then evacuated due to unspecified problems at the nuclear plant.
“This was way beyond our contingency efforts,” said Shiro Tanaka, head of the town’s planning department. “We never anticipated all three happening in succession.” (MORE from the Wall Street Journal)
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), owner/operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant is releasing a fair amount information to its website. At least in the case of my browser (Google Chrome), you can prompt a Google translation that is not so bad. See: http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/f1-np/press_f1/2010/2010-j.html
In addition to the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power stations, TEPCO has also taken five thermal plants off-line due to damage from the earthquake and secondary effects. Currently over 5.7 million households are without electric power. The period of time needed to restore power is uncertain, but TEPCO is predicting to restore about half of the lost power capacity by the middle of next week.