*An official with Japan’s nuclear safety commission says that a meltdown at a nuclear power plant affected by the country’s massive earthquake is possible.

Ryohei Shiomi said Saturday that officials were checking whether a meltdown had taken place at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which had lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake.

If the fuel rods melted or are melting, a breach could develop in the nuclear reactor vessel and the question then becomes one of how strong the containment structure around the vessel is and whether it has been undermined by the earthquake, experts said.
Shiomi said that even if there was a meltdown, it wouldn’t affect humans outside a six-mile (10-kilometer) radius.

Japan earlier Saturday declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake. Thousands of residents were evacuated as workers struggled to get the reactors under control to prevent meltdowns.

Operators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s Unit 1 scrambled ferociously to tamp down heat and pressure inside the reactor after the 8.9 magnitude quake and the tsunami that followed cut off electricity to the site and disabled emergency generators, knocking out the main cooling system.

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