Japanese officials flooded the Daiichi nuclear reactor with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown of the reactor's core, after today's explosion at the plant escalated the crisis in Japan caused by an earthquake and tsunami. Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of energy, called the measure "a Hail Mary pass." He explained: "My understanding is that the situation has become desperate enough that they apparently don't have the capability to deliver fresh water or plain water to cool the reactor and stabilize it and now, in an act of desperation, are having to resort to diverting and using sea water."
Japanese officials said late Saturday that leaks of radioactive material from the Daiichi plant have begun receding and that "a major meltdown is no longer imminent." However, Japanese television reported that at least three residents living near the Daiichi plant, among the first 90 tested at random, showed excess exposure to radiation, and excess levels of radiation have been detected outside the plant's grounds.
"As a precaution," the Japanese government doubled its evacuation radius around the plant to 12 miles. So far, more than 50,000 people have been evacuated from the area. Officials are also making preparations to distribute iodine, which helps protect the thyroid gland from radiation. The explosion at the reactor was allegedly caused by a failure in a pumping system as workers tried to prevent the reactor's temperature from racing out of control after the earthquake.
Japan struggles with nuclear reactors in wake of quake [CNN]
Japan Floods Nuclear Reactor Crippled by Earthquake to Avert a Meltdown [NYT]
Japan evacuates 50,000 after nuclear power plant explosion [LAT]