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Nuclear Crisis in Japan Intensifies

Aired March 14, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf, and good evening, everyone. Troubling breaking news from Japan tonight, a dangerous nuclear crisis is intensifying as is a daunting humanitarian challenge.

Authorities have just upgraded the power of Friday's devastating earthquake and it is now listed as 9.0 magnitude up from the reading of 8.9.

One overheating reactor is of severe concerns as Tuesday morning now dawns in Asia. Its fuel rods had been fully exposed dramatically raising the risk of a full meltdown in a nuclear disaster.

Japanese officials say two other reactors at the same complex also likely have some melting in their reactor cores, desperate efforts to cool them also underway as authorities try to prevent dangerous radiation leaks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): In reactor two, while the work on cooling the unit, namely pumping in water has resulted in a certain level of effectiveness. It cannot necessarily be called a stable situation.


KING: The deepening nuclear crisis is the most urgent of Japan's many challenges tonight. The official death toll from the quake and tsunami now more than 1,800 but it is by all accounts likely to climb and climb much higher as the waters recede and search and rescue teams reach the most remote northern Japanese towns.

The desperate search for survivors involves organized teams, some of them in boats. It also includes more personal and poignant searches like this one. We can show you here sifting through the rubble hoping to find her husband.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): We met a woman who has not been able to locate her husband who went to his office to work even one full day after the earthquake.

KING (voice-over): On a more uplifting note, this family reunited after three anxious days apart. In all about a half million people are in emergency shelters and many of those facilities are reporting severe shortages of food and other basic necessities. Words do not, they cannot do justice as we try to describe the destruction.

But the images do help us illustrate the powerful combination of that 9.0 magnitude quake followed quickly by the giant tsunami. This is from a bus thrown atop a building and nearby a house coming to rest atop an elementary school.

It is in those northern Japanese towns where the devastation is greatest and it's there near the epicenter in Sendai where we find our Anderson Cooper live tonight in the middle of it all.

And Anderson has more and more pictures come in and as correspondents like yourself make the rounds, it is numbing what we are seeing.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it is numbing to say the least, it's surreal. You see so many images that it's hard to kind of wrap your mind around it. It takes your eye a moment to kind of adjust.

I don't know if you can see behind me, but these are tractor trailer trucks that were carrying cars that have just been tossed around as if they were nothing. One of them is wrapped around a light pole. It's actually bent in a V-shape so you become used to seeing these surreal images.

And as you say, the death toll continues to rise, the full numbers, at this point are still very early days, we really have no idea of the full death toll. A lot of people still missing and you have seen more and more search and rescue crews out there.

You see members of the Japanese defense core, the Japanese military out. I've been in two different towns where they've shown up and begun searching, but there are so many smaller areas to visit, so many places, which are difficult and inaccessible that it's just very hard a at this point for the search and rescue teams to get to all the places that they're needed.

Some search and rescue teams from the United States, from Fairfax, Virginia and also from Los Angeles have arrived, but again -- and there's others coming from all around the world.

But there's so much needed here, John, it's going to take time, and obviously time is running out for those who are still trapped in the wreck cadge.

KING: And as you know, Anderson, I remember in the days after the tsunami, you see more and more and more, sometimes it's hard to put it into context when you see the big scope of things and sometimes you have to pick an image or two to help people understand the damage.

You recently just put up a picture on tweet pick. I believe we can show of a truck carrying cars wrapped around the pole there in Sendai. We're showing that picture right now. It's just one example, but sometimes you need these little examples to get a sense of the powerful force, not necessarily of the quake, but of the waters that followed.

COOPER: Right and most of the damage that we're seeing is not directly related to the quake. I mean, most of the damage was caused by the water and all this debris. I mean, it is just, you know, I was in a debris field yesterday or a couple of hours ago today on Monday and it was just extraordinary.

You're in this debris field and it's about 10 feet thick, so you think you're walking on the ground, but you're not, you're walking on top of this debris field and even though the Japanese military finally showed up and began searching the area.

They didn't have any earth moving equipment. They didn't even have any dogs so there was no way for them to know who if anyone was trapped underneath or dead underneath this ten feet of debris. They're going to need heavy earth moving equipment and that's going to take time.

But, you know, you see a car inside a house inside another house and just when you think you have seen it all, you turn around the corner and there's a house that's been completely ripped off its foundation and moved hundreds of yards away.

So again, it's going to take a lot of time and it is very slow going here and it's very dangerous and difficult work.

KING: Anderson Cooper on the ground for us in Sendai. Anderson just beginning to get a better scope of the damage, the devastation, the needs and the challenges. Much more ahead from here a few hours from now in "AC 360." Stay with us for that.

CNN's Anna Coren also in northern Japan and Anna is getting quite painful firsthand look at the rising death toll. Anna, you were out today with the people searching for survivors, but more often than not, they're finding the sad alternative, aren't they?

Anna has lost our signal. We'll get back to Anna in just a moment, but also up in northern Japan, some good news to report. Successful rescues for some marooned people in Japan.

CNN's Gary Tuchman joins us on the phone. Gary, you're getting to see what we hope to have more of, some uplifting, more dramatic success stories in the middle of all this tragedy?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, that's right, John. There's a big difference in what happening here and what happened in Haiti last year. There are a lot of rescues taking place in Japan, but these are not the dramatic rescues of people trapped under the rubble.

These are rescues of people who are marooned because their neighborhoods are flooded. They can't get out of their homes. So hundreds if not thousands of people over the last couple of days had been rescued by the military and that certainly is great news.

But the situation in Haiti was different where people had these dramatic rescues where people were crying for help and trapped under rubble. That can happen very much were the very dramatic will happen.

That's not the case here. You're finding very few people who are trapped because as Anderson just pointed out very little of this damage is from the earthquake. If there was no tsunami, we wouldn't be here right now, at least in these numbers.

It won't be a big of a story. The damage is from the tsunami. You leave, more than three miles away from the coastline. You see hardly any damage here in northern Japan, but along this coastline. It's absolutely devastated. A bomb could not do more damage from the damage we're seeing along the beach, John.

KING: Ad Gary, how successful or how improved is probably the better question is both the coordination and the volume of resources throughout the weekend because you're in the northern part of the country, because it is more remote. Because of all the water, roads and bridges wiped out and the like it was hard to get supplies and search teams up there. How much has that improved?

TUCHMAN: Well, I'll give you an example. In this town we were in yesterday, Ishinomaki where hundreds of people were rescued who just couldn't get out of their homes and offices. There were so many soldiers there that not all of them had enough to do.

They were standing around, they weren't standing around because they were lazy, they all wanted to work and they were working hard, but there is very good usage right now of the troops or the personnel.

We haven't seen a lot of international aid yet. We expect to start seeing that soon. There's very little food in the stores, it's impossible to find bottled water, you can't find gasoline. When you do find gasoline, there are gas lines like we saw in the United States in 1979 with 100, 200 cars waiting for gas.

I feel like telling the 200th person in line, if it takes one minute and there's one pump, you're never going to get up there before they close and that's the situation right now. People can't go about their daily life even if they weren't directly affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.

KING: Gary Tuchman on the scene for us as well. Gary, good to hear some heartfelt rescue stories. Let me give you a little sense of the geography Gary just mentioned. Here's one northern city where we have seen dramatic images.

You see devastation here. And again, this is not the quake, some of this from the quake, much of it is from the water pouring in. You see the destruction and devastation things just flipped on their heads and turned around.

And you come down a little bit, Ishinomaki, Gary was just mentioning that. We have had some rescues there, but still, just look, cars buried up to there. And remember, some of this video is taken as the waters recede.

You see some of the Japanese troops Gary was talking about helping out here and in the main city of Sendai, near the epicenter, the center of the city itself OK, but when you get closer to the water, just look at this.

And out amid all this, the goal is to try to find survivors and I believe we have re-established our connection with Anna. Anna, you were out helping to look for survivors, and unfortunately though when these search teams go door to door, more often than not, they're finding a sad alternative?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we were with this military team and they were hoping to find survivors. I spoke to one rescue mission literally within minutes, they went to a door, they walked inside and they came out with a body.

And that is the harsh reality, that there is so much devastation and that if you were inside your house on that ground level, there's just no way that you could have survived. I think Gary was talking about these five kilometer corridor, all up and down the coast has just been completely annihilated. House after house, street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood has just been devastated.

So these military teams, they are going from house to house, hoping to find survivors, but it's just not going to happen, not in that particular area, John, because of the scale of devastation. We spoke to one man who clung to his roof while the tsunami came through and he said if the water had gone any higher, he would have been swept away.

They saw neighbors swept away and a lot of these people are elderly too, John. You know, these coastal villages, the farming areas, and a lot of these people are elderly, they just didn't have enough time between the earthquake hitting and then the tsunami, that 10-meter wall of water just racing through. It's like less than half an hour so many of those older people just weren't able to get to higher ground.

KING: And Anna, when you're out with these people, do you get the sense that they're beginning to come to grips with is scope of this or is there largely still just a state of shock?

COREN: They are in shock, but they're also very much on high alert. You know, we were in Ishinomaki yesterday when there was a tsunami warning that was issued. There had been a rather large aftershock and police were racing up and down the roads with sirens telling people to get out that there was a tsunami coming, a three wave coming.

The place just erupted into chaos. People were just in frenzied panic because they had witnessed, they had lived through that horror on Friday on that 9.0 quake and then the tsunami following. They just raced to higher ground.

We went up the hillside with a group of people and met this one man, a 64-year-old man and he just looked so scared and we sort of said to him, are you OK? He said my heart is racing. I'm so scared there's going to be another tsunami.

So with the aftershocks continuing, and that is what we're getting, every single day, we're getting more and more aftershocks. These people are just living in fear while trying to rebuild their lives. Just a tragic situation.

KING: Anna Coren for us tracking the tragedy and the heartbreak. Thank you, Anna for that reporting. We'll get back to all of our correspondents as well.

And obviously tonight, Japan is in a state of high nuclear emergency. NHK, the public television station is reporting there's been another explosion at a nuclear facility. We at CNN are trying to get more details about that. We don't want to alarm you too much, but I do want to remind you of what we're talking about here.

Here's the epicenter up near here. I want to bring this map down now and show you a sense of this is the nuclear facility in question, right here. Three reactors, all three have had problems. In the second reactor, they have had the core rods in the main element fully exposed.

That's one of the problems to show you just what we're talking about here and bring this open. In a moment, we'll have a larger conversation about this. But watch this play out.

This is how this works. There's a normal pumping system, there's a nuclear reactor and you have these rods here, and this is what you need to keep cool. There's a normal pumping system that went out when the earthquake happened. There are backup generators. They believe -- they're not certain. They believe those were knocked out when the tsunami happened.

Then there are battery generators that are supposed to pump cool water in as well. That system failed as well. Again, we're not quite certain, did it just fail over time or was there some kind of malfunction?

The alternative then is to bring in ocean water, sea water to bring up here to cool this reactor. But the Japanese authorities saying today at least at one point these rods were fully exposed. That is the condition that can lead to a meltdown. They have pumped more sea water in, you heard at the top of the show, this is not a completely stable situation. That's an understatement to say the least.

We're trying to get much more information on this. When we come back, what do we know about this? What are we finding out about perhaps another exposure as well? There are health fears in Japan, a lot of questions about radiation, nuclear safety and the candor of government officials.

But first as we go to break, more of the powerful images. A coastal Japanese town where hundreds of people still marooned by high water from the tsunami. Gary Tuchman rode along with the rescue crews today. Have a look.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): We see a woman waiving from her apartment window. She's desperate for drinking water, but to our surprise doesn't want to evacuate her home. So we move on.

After they reached dry land, some of those rescued are taken to the hospital. Most of the others are able to walk off. But often without knowing where to go, after all their hometown is under water.



KING: More disturbing troubling news from Japan just in to CNN. An explosive impact occurred Tuesday morning. It is now Tuesday morning in Asia at the earthquake damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the number two reactor.

That is the same reactor officials said earlier today had its rods fully exposed during a cooling problem. They were pumping sea water in. They had a temporary problem with that, the rods were fully exposed at one point.

Now we are told of explosive impact. This is said to have occurred just about two hours ago at 5:14 p.m. here in the east, 6:14 a.m. Japan. This has Japanese authorities continue pumping sea water into three crippled reactors at that site. They're trying to keep their radioactive fuel rods covered in a effort to cool them down.

If the fuel rods were left exposed, those temperatures could build up 5,000-degrees Fahrenheit with radiation so intense it could be impossible to deal with. Now that's a worst case scenario, but there are other possibilities and many of them also alarming.

With us now Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear safety advocate who consult with Vermont state government about the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Also New York Presbyterian Hospital's Radiation Oncologist Chief Dr. Clifford Chao.

Mr. Gundersen, I want to go straight to you first, the Yankee plant is not terribly unlike these plants we're dealing with in Japan. When you hear the authorities hours ago saying that all of those rods, all three reactors have been somewhat exposed. Number two have been fully exposed now they're talking about an explosive impact in the number two reactor again this morning, what does that tell you?

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, NUCLEAR SAFETY ADVOCATE: It tells me that the fuel is clad with something called Zirchromium. It strips the water into oxygen and creates hydrogen. So when you hear of a hydrogen explosion, it means the fuel was at least at 2,200 degrees.

After the fuel gets to that point, all of the little fuel pellets fall out and wind up on the bottom of the nuclear reactor where they can form a molten mass. KING: And they form a molten mass. At this point, you have seen the hydrogen explosions come out. At this point, have you seen anything to doubt the words of Japanese officials that they believe the containment dome is secure and that while they're having a very, very troubling event inside at the moment the risk to the public is moderately low?

GUNDERSEN: The containment is leaking, it's not leaking severely yet. You recall that when this accident started, there was already iodine and cesium picked up offsite. That was an indication that the containment was leaking, but it's probably relatively low yet, another hydrogen explosion might change that, though.

KING: Well, Dr. Chao help us when the scientists or the government says relatively low radiation escaping, talk to us about the human impact, the terms of people who live in that community who have been exposed to at least low levels of radiation.

We've also heard from the U.S. military that they had operations. The USS "Ronald Reagan" off the shore that some of its aircraft came back with evidence of radiation exposure.

DR. CLIFFORD CHAO, N.Y. PRESBYERIAN HOSPITAL: I think there wasn't radiation leaking out, it's of concern. What's happened is the past experience with Chernobyl for example in 1986. What happened is getting into the air, travels through and forms into the human body through certain access.

What happen is iodine 131 traveling into the thyroid and the radiation gets in the thyroid and the only problem being reported is this thyroid disease. This thyroid disease is actually related to cancer afterwards.

And it is very important to continue to monitor even the tracer amount of it because the younger the patient exposed, the most profound impact would be to their life afterwards.

KING: And Mr. Gundersen, I want to come back to you. I have an animation of the three reactors here. They're now pumping sea water into this one. They have issues with cooling in the other one and essentially this plant assume is done. Hopefully it doesn't turn into more of a disaster.

But what happens to a site like this now, they're in the middle of this emergency operation, what's your number one concern when you hear that two reactors where is they have significant problems and they have a risk of a full meltdown.

GUNDERSEN: There are two problems, one is up, one is down. There's a risk of a meltdown in all three reactors because this molten mass is at the bottom of the reactor.

And that could be at any one of the three, although it seems like the second one is more likely. The other one of the fuel poles which are way up high. The fuel pools are not being cooled. So they're pumping mortar in and letting it boil off, just like you would a pot on a stove. They're not cooling it, but they're replacing it with ocean water.

KING: And Dr. Chao, you have heard the government saying it's evacuating people back, from everything you have heard and seen, are they handling it in a right approach or do you think they need to be more aggressive?

CHAO: Well, I think they're acting correctly. What we learned from Chernobyl, the first thing that happens is you need to evacuate people away from that area and number two, I think they're also doing correctly is issue iodine pills to counter any potential fall out of those iodine 131, a radioactive material.

KING: Mr. Gundersen, a lot of Americans are watching tonight saying could this happen here? You know the Yankee plant in Vermont, you know the design of other facilities. I would guess that the California plants are in more of a seismic risk area.

Do you have any concerns? Obviously the systems are designed, you have the normal pumping, then you have the backup pump, then you have the battery pumps, in this case, all these are built to have redundancies, in this case all the backups have failed. Do we need to triple check all these systems

GUNDERSEN: I think before what was impossible has now become possible. We really need to go back through examine the credible threat. The 23 reactors that are identical to this design are especially prone to this problem.

And it's not about an earthquake, it's about a flood. And a flood, whether it's on the Mississippi River, the Connecticut River or a tsunami, it would have the same affect of the cooling of the reactor. So a bad flood could do it no matter where in the United States you are.

KING: And Dr. Chao, let me close by asking you this about this facility in Japan, if they continue to have the problems here, this could go on for years we are told. If they have to use the sea water to cool these down to get the temperature down to a point where it's safe, how long would you keep people away from that facility and where would you draw the circle?

CHAO: Well, remember that the iodine 131 would bust out if happened into the sky and then it can travel within hundred or even thousand miles radius. There's no way they can predict how far you need to evacuate.

However, the good thing is that those iodine 131 fall off has a half life. Half life only eight hours, enough that they're going to fall out quickly. So as far as immediate attention to those measurements and also what to eat and whatnot to eat, especially some dairy products related to the cow and pasture, those kinds of products are very important to pay attention to those. KING: Dr. Chao and Mr. Gundersen, I can't thank you enough for coming in and sharing your expertise with us in the middle of this breaking news tonight. Hope we can keep in touch in the days ahead.

CHAO: Thank you for having me.

KING: Thank you both. Thank you both.

Coming up here in the hours after the quake hit Friday, we talked to an American journalist who's in Japan described how the quake shook Tokyo and how desperate she was to hear from her son attending school up near the epicenter. Well, tonight she finally got a call.


LUCY CRAFT, TOKYO-BASED CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): When the quake hit, he was in gym class and the kids were in the gym when the tremors started and pieces of the walls started falling on them. And he told me, you know, in just a very sort of neutral tone of voice, I thought we were all going to die.



KING: Tuesday morning across Asia. And in Japan, we are told by authorities there's been another explosion at the nuclear plant where three reactors are in peril. This explosion, we are told, happened about three hours and 15 minutes ago at the number two reactor where officials earlier had said all of the rods, all of the rods in the main containment core had been fully exposed earlier in the day. We are trying to get more information on that, officials had been warning of the risk of a meltdown there.

As we dig for that information, also, we want to show you some dramatic new images. These images came in from NHK, the public television network in Japan. (INAUDIBLE) there is live. This is tape we have turned for you, just don't want to confuse you.

Watch this play out. You want to see the power of this tsunami. The quake, 9.0 magnitude, but it is the tsunami that followed that did most of the devastation, the huge wave coming ashore. And you see here, much of this is farmland, and thank God for that, as you see the power of this water comes sweeping across, you see fires on its wake, it is dragging debris, cars, boats, flipping over like toys as you watch the power of the water.

You see a boat up here in the front as well. It is just stunning and numbing when you see these pictures come in, and you realize -- and here it comes -- it comes across the farmland relatively painless and then, boom, into a small town on the side of the road. And you could watch the waters go through, you see the people here trying to get out ahead of it.

It is the water that packs the punch after this stunning, stunning, stunning event -- fires back here, fires back here. And, again, it's hard to see, it gets grainy when you look. But these are cars, these are boats, these are cabs of a truck -- these are not small items being dragged along. Here's is the top of a home here just being pulled along by the force of this water, it just moves and damages anything in its path.

And as all this played out, on Friday night, we talked to an American journalist in Japan who described how the quake shook Tokyo. She was at the parliament building, the Diet, at the time. She talked about the impact there.

But then she talked about more importantly about how desperate she was to hear from her son who attends school up near the epicenter. Well, she did, he's OK because a harrowing story that she's only getting to hear little bits and pieces because they can't get good cell service. But Lucy Craft told us what she knows a little while ago.


LUCY CRAFT, TOKYO-BASED CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): When the quake hit, he was in gym class and the kids were in the gym when the tremors started and pieces of the walls started falling on them.

And he told me, you know, in just a very sort of neutral tone of voice, "I thought we were all going to die." And then shortly after that, I guess when they kind of came to their senses, all the kids and students ran outside on to the playing field and they had a short assembly and the principal's administrators immediately decided that they should all just go home. And, unfortunately, because my son is one of the few kids from out of town who boards there, they sent him back to his dorm which is actually in the direction of the danger zone of the tsunami.

And so, he got on the train, traveled about 10 minutes to his dorm and he was in the area where the floodwaters started to circle. And in very short order, all the stores in his neighborhood were wrecked and, you know, the rest of the story probably after that, to this day, they're without power, without heat. He told me that he hasn't been able to get any food for a while. So, they just -- they're handing out these high energy biscuits that are tasteless, but they keep you alive if you don't have anything else.

KING: And so, the officials at his school sent him into danger. Obviously, I'm sure, they didn't have good information at the time. But that has to be a cause of -- I know you have great relief that he's OK -- but a huge concern about the miscommunications or the lack of communications?

CRAFT: Well, I mean, to be fair, again, as has been pointed out, this was a highly, highly unusual situation -- not just unusual, completely unheard of, unplanned for, you know, very -- the smartest seismologists at the University of Tokyo never calculated or imagined that a massive earthquake would occur and trigger tsunamis that were 46 feet high.

And tsunamis have never traveled this far inland, you know, in the last few centuries. In fact, one expert said this was a once in a 1,000 years occurrence. So, I mean, to be quite fair, this was outside anybody's realm of imagination.

KING: As he described it all, the scene around him, and assume he feels personally lucky given the scope of devastation up that way.

CRAFT: He feels very lucky but, you know, now, he's just desperate up there and keeps calling us and asking us to help. He did describe -- I said, you know, have you seen anything unusual? And, of course, there's long line for food. In fact, I think their supplies are completely cut off now.

KING: I asked you about this, your own personal reflections in the initial hours after, now that you have had a few days, and I think everybody is better aware, perhaps not completely aware of the scope of the problem and the depth of the challenge --what's your sense of the government's response? Yes, as you noted, maybe this is a once in a 1,000-year occurrence. Do you get a sense that they have adopted -- that they're adjusting, whether it's supply lines, whether it's emergency care, whether it's search and rescue?

CRAFT: I'm not great admirer or apologist for the Japanese government, but I wonder if there's any leadership on Earth that could have coped with a disaster of this magnitude. It's just -- I mean, you almost have to be here to experience it. I mean, this disaster is not just in northern Japan, it's affecting the entire country. This is unprecedented.

I think if you had gone through World War II -- my mother is Japanese, and she experienced the war and she told me something about it. I think if you've ad gone through war, you might have a sense for what's happening here right now. But otherwise, if you're fortunate enough not to have experienced that kind of misery and depravation, it's something of a shock, let's put it bluntly.


KING: A happy mother there hoping to be reunited with her son in the hours ahead.

We're continuing to track new reports of a new explosion at a nuclear reactor in Japan. The Tokyo Electric Company earlier today said they did not believe any additional evacuations were necessary. We'll see if they update that situation. We'll also go back live to our reporters in the region.

And we'll check in with CNN's Wolf Blitzer who is traveling to the Middle East with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- a very important mission as the United States ponders whether its policy regarding Libya and the democratic protests all across the region.

And also, as we keep our eye on the devastation in Japan, Japanese officials estimate almost a half million people -- a half million people -- are living in shelters.

CNN's Kyung Lah visited with some of them today in Sendai. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are so many victims in this tsunami. This is just one converted class room in this school. To my right, there are very elderly people; to my left, a child.

(voice-over): The message board is filled with calls for help to find relatives.

"I can't find them," says this man.

The tsunami has hit all of Sendai in some way. Two friends reunite by chance. Rare tears of joy, out-shed though by those of grief in Japan's growing humanitarian crisis.



KING: Welcome back.

If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

And, first, the breaking news. The owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant just announced -- just announced -- there's been another explosion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This morning, from 6:00 to 6:15, there was a big impact or explosive impact. Around 6:14, we heard a strange sound around the suppression pool and the pressure changed. The pressure control area may have experienced some kind of problem.


KING: That problem in the number two reactor, the number two reactor, the one where they had the problem earlier in the day, the one they are most concerned about.

General David Petraeus, as you can see, is back in Washington for the first time since taking command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He briefed the president and the Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the White House this afternoon.

Libyan rebels seem to have slowed the eastward advance of Moammar Gadhafi's troops. These pictures are from several days ago. Today is the first time rebels refused to let the news media near the front lines.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Paris for urgent talks about the Libyan civil war as well as the unrest across the Middle East.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is travelling with Secretary Clinton and joins us now live from Paris.

And, Wolf, these are very, very important talks, much of the world's attention on the earthquake and the tsunami crisis in Japan. But Secretary Clinton, among other things, is beginning a dialogue with the Libyan opposition. What can you tell us about that?

BLITZER: It's very significant, John. As you know, the French government of President Sarkozy and -- Hillary Clinton met with President Sarkozy today. The French government has gone one step further than the United States, formally recognized the Libyan opposition as the legitimate government of Libya. The United States has not done that, but the U.S. has established some contact with the Libyan opposition.

And today, the very high level -- just now even as we speak, they just wrapped up a meeting, the secretary of state and some representatives from the Libyan opposition. I don't know if this is going to lead to any formal declaration that the United States is going to recognize the Libyan opposition as the government of Libya. But it's a significant step in and of its own.

There's no word -- I asked Secretary of State Clinton earlier in the day if the U.S. had made its mind about a no-fly zone now that the Arab League has formally endorsed the idea. She was wishy-washy on that. She refused to say, there's going to be continued dialogue on that.

At the same time, she did meet with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates who's gone forward. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, they are sending troops into Bahrain to help the besieged king over there in the face of some significant problems, of significant turmoil in Bahrain. The secretary leaves Paris tomorrow. She's on her way to Cairo and then Tunisia before heading back to Washington.

So, she's got a lot on her plate right now as we go forward -- John.

KING: And Wolf Blitzer will be along for this urgent diplomatic mission.

We'll stay in touch with Wolf as he makes his travels to the Middle East at a vital, vital time.

Wolf, thanks so much.

When we come back, we'll return to the crisis in Japan. Again, we're digging for more information. A new explosion tonight -- or this morning in Japan. It is now Tuesday morning in Japan, in the number two reactor at -- the reactor they have had the most trouble with. There's three reactors in trouble at one complex, another explosion this morning, Tuesday morning time in Japan. We're digging for more.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: More troubling news tonight, breaking news from the owners and the operators of one of Japan's major nuclear complex. Let me show you up on the map here. If you've been following this tragedy, you know we've been talking a lot about the Fukushima Daiichi plant right here. There are three reactors at this plant. Tokyo Electric apologizing tonight, saying there has been yet another explosion at this facility.

Let me bring off the map of the three reactors for you. The three there, right here, all three are in trouble tonight. All three have had various degrees of cooling issues and perhaps meltdowns in the core. It is number two they are most worried about.

Earlier today, they said all of the rods had been fully exposed. About 2 1/2 hours ago, another explosion at reactor two. And what Tokyo officials are saying is the radioactive readings have gone up, and they have evacuated operators not directly involve with the most urgent of the operations there.

The damage was done in the suppression pool. And that's what gets dangerous. That is down in here. You have a nuclear reactor.

You have the rods right near. These are highly radioactive. You need to keep the temperatures cool in here to keep from having a meltdown. These have been fully exposed, which raises the risk of a full meltdown. And now, they're saying there's some sort of a problem in the suppression pool, evacuation of the operators is being carried out.

This is the first time -- the first time -- in this crisis that has happened. Some operators are being taken out. Now, we want to be careful with the information. We are trying to get more on this information.

But this is a deepening nuclear crisis at a major nuclear facility, three actors in trouble, one in grave trouble. It's about 150 miles to the north of Tokyo.

We continue to report on this story. And as we do, we also want to touch base again with our Anna Coren. She is in northern Japan which, of course, took the blunt of the quake and then the blunt of the tsunami.

And, Anna, as the search and rescue operation unfolds and you deal with the numbing pain people there are experiencing as they lose family members, as they search for family members, as they try to find little pieces of their lives in homes that have been destroyed, how much does what's happening to the south of them? Does it even come up in conversations? Or are people so numb by the pain in front of them they're not aware of a nuclear crisis a couple hundred miles to the south?

COREN: Well, John, it's interesting you say that because as we were setting up for this live shot, a gentleman actually walked past us and was asking about the nuclear power plant and the situation down there. So, we sort of had to reassure him that everything was sort of under control from what we know, that, you know -- because we're only here some 50, 60 kilometers north of that power plant.

So, yes, people know about it. They certainly are aware. But, you know, a little bit further north where we were where these townships, these cities have just been completely annihilated, you know, their number one priority is trying to, I guess, rebuild their lives.

They're returning to their homes, what remains of their homes, and trying to salvage whatever, you know, they possibly can. They're walking out of the structures. Some of the structures, mind you, are still standing. They're walking out with bedding, with clothing.

But, you know, at the end of the day, everything has been completely ruined. They also talking about the fact that, you know, they can't get in touch with their neighbors. They can't get in touch with their loved ones. There are so many people missing.

And when you stand in these areas and stand in the neighborhoods and you know this 10-meter water has just roared through these neighborhoods, you know that if anybody was standing on the ground floor, they just would have been swept away.

KING: And, Anna, to what degree do you still have the urgent needs for those who are still there, for the survivors and those maybe coming to find family members, basic supplies, food, water, medical care, clothing for those who have lost everything because it was washed away? Has that situation improved?

COREN: No. Not yet. Those are the things are in such short supply. I mean, we're in Sendai, you know, a city of 1 million people. And it's still operating -- food, water and power are really, really low. This is -- this is a problem, you know, as we go even further north.

So, for those people who -- whose homes have been completely destroyed, there are centers set up -- welfare centers set up that they can stay in all this, you know? If they're fortunate enough, they can go and stay with family and friends.

But, you know, for these people, they are truly traumatized. And on top of that, they're also having to deal with aftershocks. You know, John, we were with them in Ishinomaki when a tsunami warning was issued. And the fear, the panic that these people were experiencing was just unbelievable. They all jumped in their cars and went to higher ground.

There is this real fear that another tsunami was coming.

KING: Anna Coren, one of our remarkable reporters in northern Japan.

A little sense of the geography here -- Sendai up here, near the epicenter. And the nuclear plant down in this area here. This is a dramatic moment. We're blessed at CNN to have a fabulous team of correspondents on the scene.

Anna, thank you so much. We'll stay in touch.

As we go to break, remember, we're staying on top of the breaking news story: yet another explosion at reactor number two. The reactor they are most worried about. A nuclear plant about 150 miles north of Tokyo.

And as we take you to break, as Anna just noted, many people just have questions. They don't know where relatives are, loved ones are, friends are.

So, you see some high-tech searching on the Internet. But, often, if you go into these emergency shelters, you see scenes of names on the walls, pictures on the wall, numbers scribbled on the wall, people hoping desperately to find somebody.


KING: Troubling and disturbing breaking news out of Japan tonight. It is Tuesday morning already there. And the Tokyo Electric Power Company reporting another explosion and more troubling developments at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, we've been worrying about it.

Container number two, reactor number two where they have had so much trouble, another explosion. They say, because of that, only 50 staff members remain there to pump water into the suppression pool. Water injection operations are on going. But some of the staffers have been evacuated because of that explosion.

Officials are saying the water levels reached a point where they were very low. And about half of the rods were exposed. That is incredibly dangerous. The company is saying water levels are beginning now to rise.

But pressure falling inside that containment vessel means something might be tragically wrong in the containment area of that reactor that can -- the company concedes -- lead to radiation from leaking. We are continuing to track this breaking story.

In our final moment tonight, I want to show you some dramatic before and half images as we continue to track the scope and nuclear crisis in Japan. It is stunning to look at the power of this quake and what it has done.

This is Sendai, a town of about a million people near the epicenter. Remember that image. That is the before and is after. These are digital satellite photos.

Let me just split the difference here. It is stunning the scope of the devastation. That is in Sendai, Japan.

Let me come back over here and show you Natori, Japan. Watch this play out when you turn this one down, I'm sorry. And bring this one in Natori, and we'll show the before image here. Again, you see the homes, you see the stream up in the middle here, you see the farmland -- utterly, devastating. It is shocking and stunning in the development.

One more before we go tonight -- bring this one over and turn down Natori. Here's Iwanuma, Japan. Look these pictures here. Look at these pictures. Watch this play out. It breaks your heart. It just plainly breaks your heart.

We'll continue to track this story, including the breaking news about nuclear problems again in Tokyo. We'll see you right back here tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.