A second explosion occurred Monday at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported
. Eleven people were said to have been injured.
Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the blast, believed to be a hydrogen explosion, occurred at 11:01 a.m. in the No. 3 reactor of the power plant, NHK said. But radiation levels around the plant, about 170 miles north of Tokyo, remained within acceptable levels. On Saturday, a hydrogen explosion occurred in the No. 1 reactor at the same power plant.
Adding to the discouraging news, a Japanese official said Monday that a third reactor at the six-reactor plant had lost its cooling capacity. It was unclear what steps were being taking in that regard.
The Japanese government was making efforts to allay fears of large releases of radioactive materials. ''We judge that the possibility of a large amount of radioactive materials flying off from there is low,'' Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a news conference, according to the Kyodo news agency
Getting an accurate assessment of the loss of life and the damage to property will take time. Authorities reported that 1,647 were confirmed dead and 1,720 were reported missing after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit on Friday. But Kyodo reported that 2,000 bodies
had been found Monday in the prefecture of Miyagi.
Officials predicted that the death toll in Miyagi, which is the state at the epicenter of the quake, would "certainly be more than 10,000," the Japanese network NHK reported
Concerns were also rising that the triple disaster would disrupt Japan's economy. On Monday the Japanese stock prices plunged with the Nikkei index falling 6.18 percent
On Sunday Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan, said the earthquake and tsunami had confronted the nation with its most "severe crisis" since World War II.
"We Japanese people have overcome all kinds of hardships and were able to create a prosperous society," Kan said in an address televised nationwide. "In the face of the earthquake and tsunami we should be able to overcome these hardships, we believe we can overcome this."
However, he said, "The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the past 65 years since World War II."
More than 300,000 people have been evacuated to emergency shelters, many of them residents in areas near stricken nuclear power plants, and millions of Japanese are confronted with food shortages, loss of power and other basic services.
The government ordered 100,000 troops to engage in rescue and recovery efforts, the largest such mobilization since the last world war.
Two of the nuclear power plants whose cooling systems had failed in the wake of the quake may experience at least partial meltdowns and the same problems loomed over four others, according to the New York Times
While the magnitude of the situation at the nuclear plants has been likened to the Chernobyl disaster
in Russia 25 years ago, where the plant's nuclear core was exposed and radioactive fallout spread over a wide area, the Times said
Japanese nuclear safety officials and other experts believe that the release of radiation likely would be much smaller because of design differences in the plants.
"We're in a key period now," nuclear expert Joe Cirincione said on "Fox News Sunday." "The next 12 to 24 hours will tell us whether the Japanese officials will be able to get control back over these reactors, or it's gone, it's lost. The pumping of the seawater into reactor number one is that last ditch effort to try to stop it before it's too late. If they can succeed, if they can hold it for the next 24 hours or, so then these reactor cores will cool down and will be implied path to containing this disaster."
Cirincione said that if the danger at the Japan reactors were "to stop right now" it would rank lower on the scale of nuclear accidents," a local event without significant injury." He said, "if it continues, it will certainly get to ... the Three Mile Island category
of a serious event. We almost lost Three Mile Island and almost went meltdown. It stopped at the last minute. That is the situation we're fighting to maintain in Japan. If there is a meltdown, that puts it in a ... Chernobyl category -- a serious nuclear incident with potential for large scale loss of life."