The above link is an informative primer, although I have to say, it smacks more than a bit of that insider's/scientist's/industry-friendly pretension (I prefer the outsider's alarmism, as the public's normal state is already one of false trust and complacency) particularly in what its author chooses to either gloss over or simply omit. That being said, basic ignorance (my own included) has to rectified somewhere, and this provides a start.
Meanwhile, live television from Japan (in English) is extremely interesting, here.
As for the necessary grains of salt (corrections welcome if any of this is factually wrong):
The scale of the earthquake, for which there is already precedent in human history, was over five times what the plants were built to sustain. Why?
What greasy politician on earth lets an industry with potentially apocalyptic risks get away with being so unprepared? These things should be built to sustain a natural disaster 10 times as strong as the largest thing on record (particularly as with global warming, natural disasters will only get worse), or not built at all. We need a fundamental change in principle from corporate profits with lies and gambling about risks, to 'first do no harm.'
They also claim the tsunami was unusually large. In other breaking news, it turns out that large tsunamis are often caused by large earthquakes, say fucking geniuses.
Or let me guess: maybe it was yet another "perfect storm".... just like the ever-increasing cancer epidemic, clearly caused by all those woman who don't exercise and get tested enough.
There were mixed reports originally about the overall integrity of the containment vessels...one can only trust the industry to measure accurately and everywhere inside and outside the vessel...taking a notoriously deceitful industry (and government) at their word, on this point. Meanwhile further large aftershocks are very likely.
The elaborate practice they "train" for is literally as sophisticated as this: they are using fire hoses to pump sea water at the problem, without any way of measuring the temperature to know when to stop.
Some idiot turned the wrong valve off and apparently nobody was paying attention; simple human error caused the explosion and fuel rod exposure at Reactor 2. It should be mentioned that anyone working at these plants, including the 10 or so experts requested from the US, are doing so at enormous personal risk of dangerous exposure (again, reassuringly all part of "the plan").
Any further interruption to this jerry-rig cooling operation could still result in a meltdown that breaches the containment vessel at any of these sites, and is still a real possibility (outside experts agree). Especially with a 70% chance of further large aftershocks.
The industry as a whole routinely lies about the magnitude of earthquake nuclear plants (including those in the US) are built to sustain.
Japan is one of the most highly-regulated, technologically sophisticated countries using nuclear power. Whatever potential for disaster exists in Japan (whether that complete disaster comes to pass or not), exists in the US as well.
Also no mention that #3 is fueled in part by plutonium, much more difficult to control than just enriched uranium, although the extent of that leak seems, at least until the next aftershock, to be "controlled..." whatever that means (the truth is, they don't even know, because there's no corporate incentive to know).
That an aircraft carrier 100 miles away detected radiation and was ordered to leave the area isn't particularly reassuring.
More, and more:
....“We are on the brink,” said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University. “We are now facing the worst-case scenario. We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released.”
Another executive said the chain of events at Daiichi suggested that it would be difficult to maintain emergency seawater cooling operations for an extended period if the containment vessel at one reactor had been compromised because radiation levels could threaten the health of workers nearby.
If all workers do in fact leave the plant, the nuclear fuel in all three reactors is likely to melt down, which would lead to wholesale releases of radioactive material — by far the largest accident of its kind since Chernobyl.
Even if a full meltdown is averted, Japanese officials have been facing unpalatable options. One was to continue flooding the reactors and venting the resulting steam, while hoping that the prevailing winds did not turn south toward Tokyo or west, across northern Japan to the Korean Peninsula. The other was to hope that the worst of the overheating was over, and that with the passage of a few more days the nuclear cores would cool enough to essentially entomb the radioactivity inside the plants, which clearly will never be used again. Both approaches carried huge risks...