* Report that nuclear building's outer structure blown off
* Death toll from quake and tsunami put at 1,300
* Huge trail of devastation along Japan's northeast coast
* Quake shifted earth's axis and main island of Japan
By Chris Meyers and Kim Kyung-hoon
FUKUSHIMA, Japan, March 12 Radiation leaked from
a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor north of Tokyo on Saturday,
the government said, after an explosion blew the roof off the
facility in the wake of a massive earthquake.
The developments raised fears of a meltdown at the plant as
officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear
disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the
The Japanese plant was damaged by Friday's 8.9-magnitude
earthquake, which sent a 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami ripping
through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese
media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.
"We are looking into the cause and the situation and we'll
make that public when we have further information," Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said after confirming the
explosion and radiation leak at the plant.
Edano said an evacuation radius of 10 km (6 miles) from the
stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima
prefecture was adequate, but an hour later the boundary was
extended to 20 km (13 miles). TV footage showed vapour rising
from the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Along Japan's northeast coast, rescue workers searched
through the rubble of destroyed buildings, cars and boats,
looking for survivors in hardest-hit areas such as the city of
Sendai, 300 km (180 miles) northeast of Tokyo.
Dazed residents hoarded water and huddled in makeshift
shelters in near-freezing temperatures. Aerial footage showed
buildings and trains strewn over mudflats like children's toys.
"All the shops are closed, this is one of the few still
open. I came to buy and stock up on diapers, drinking water and
food," Kunio Iwatsuki, 68, told Reuters in Mito city, where
residents queued outside a damaged supermarket for supplies.
Across the coastline, survivors clambered over nearly
impassable roads. In Iwanuma, not far from Sendai, people
spelled S.O.S. out on the roof of a hospital surrounded by
water, one of many desperate scenes.
The earthquake and tsunami, and now the radiation leak,
present Japan's government with its biggest challenge in a
The explosion at Chernobyl's nuclear plant's fourth reactor
in 1986 sent thousands of tonnes of toxic nuclear dust billowing
across the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. It was the worst civil
The blast at the Japanese nuclear facility came as plant
operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) worked
desperately to reduce pressures in the core of the reactor.
The company has had a rocky past in an industry plagued by
scandal. In 2002, the president of the country's largest power
utility was forced to resign along with four other senior
executives, taking responsibility for suspected falsification of
nuclear plant safety records.
NHK television and Jiji news agency said the outer structure
of the reactor building that houses the reactor appeared to have
blown off, but nuclear experts said this did not necessarily
mean the nuclear reactor had been breached.
Earlier the operator released what it said was a tiny amount
of radioactive steam to reduce the pressure and the danger was
minimal because tens of thousands of people had already been
evacuated from the vicinity.
Reuters journalists were in Fukushima prefecture, about 70
km (40 miles) from the plant. Other media have reported police
roadblocks in the area to prevent people getting closer.
INTERNATIONAL RELIEF EFFORT
Friday's tremor was so huge that thousands fled their homes
from coastlines around the Pacific Rim, as far away as North and
South America, fearful of a tsunami.
Most appeared to have been spared anything more serious than
some high waves, unlike Japan's northeast coastline which was
hammered by the huge tsunami that turned houses and ships into
floating debris as it surged into cities and villages, sweeping
aside everything in its path.
"I thought I was going to die," said Wataru Fujimura, a
38-year-old sales representative in Koriyama, Fukushima, north
of Tokyo and close to the area worst hit by the quake.
"Our furniture and shelves had all fallen over and there
were cracks in the apartment building, so we spent the whole
night in the car ... Now we're back home trying to clean."
In one of the worst-hit residential areas, people buried
under rubble could be heard calling out for rescue, Kyodo news
agency reported earlier.
The international community started to send disaster relief
teams on Saturday to help Japan, with the United Nations sending
a group to help coordinate work.
Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology
said the earth's axis shifted 25 cm as a result of the quake and
the U.S. Geological Survey said the main island of Japan had
shifted 2.4 metres.
The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world
in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kant quake of Sept.
1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than
140,000 people in the Tokyo area.
The 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage and was
the most expensive natural disaster in history.
(Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by John Chalmers)