Now that Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station has experienced its third explosion in four days and radiation is spreading, “We are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario,” says one expert. In an extensive New York Times piece detailing the timeline and series of problems that led to this point, another expert says, “It’s way past Three Mile Island already.” Adding to the tension: As radiation levels threaten their health, workers are leaving the plant—and if all workers abandon it, a meltdown is all but certain. Even if officials manage to avoid a full meltdown, they face only risky options.
They can keep flooding the reactors with seawater and venting the steam, hoping the winds don’t carry it toward Tokyo or Korea, or simply hope that the overheating will die down on its own, enclosing the radioactivity inside the plants. The prime minister (who, Reuters adds, is unhappy with the power company for taking an hour to alert his office about the latest blast) has asked for calm, but warned that there is “a very high risk” of further radiation leaks. The PM isn’t the only one unhappy with Tokyo Electric Power Co.: The Wall Street Journal notes that public distrust is growing—as is resentment that the company took a full 29 hours before apologizing in public. Meanwhile, MSNBC reports, half a million people are in evacuation centers without water, electricity, or oil, facing freezing temperatures. Click to read more about the spreading radiation.