Science

Bird's-Eye View Of Japan's Stricken Nuclear Plant Shows Vast Damage

A hydrogen explosion rocked reactor 3 on March 14. Helicopters and fire trucks have tried dousing the reactor building with water. This photo was taken March 24.

hide captionA hydrogen explosion rocked reactor 3 on March 14. Helicopters and fire trucks have tried dousing the reactor building with water. This photo was taken March 24.

Air Photo Service/AP

Our reporters and photographers on the ground in Japan have helped us hear and see the destruction wrought by the massive quake and tsunami that struck the island nation March 11. In contrast, the crisis unfolding at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex remains largely opaque.

Mostly, that's because damage to the nuclear reactors and the buildings that house them makes for hazardous and radioactive conditions. Forget about access for journalists: Workers can't even get too close for too long. Four of the facility's six reactor units have been badly damaged by explosions and fires triggered by failures in emergency cooling systems in the wake of the quake and tsunami. These aerial photographs of the facility, taken by a drone on March 20 and 24, put a new face on the ongoing nuclear crisis.

This photo, from March 20, shows the damaged buildings of reactor 4 (left) and reactor 3. Reactor 4 was shut down for routine maintenance at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, but two fires broke out on March 15 and 16, caused by the buildup of hydrogen gas. i i

hide captionThis photo, from March 20, shows the damaged buildings of reactor 4 (left) and reactor 3. Reactor 4 was shut down for routine maintenance at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, but two fires broke out on March 15 and 16, caused by the buildup of hydrogen gas.

Air Photo Service/AP
This photo, from March 20, shows the damaged buildings of reactor 4 (left) and reactor 3. Reactor 4 was shut down for routine maintenance at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, but two fires broke out on March 15 and 16, caused by the buildup of hydrogen gas.

This photo, from March 20, shows the damaged buildings of reactor 4 (left) and reactor 3. Reactor 4 was shut down for routine maintenance at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, but two fires broke out on March 15 and 16, caused by the buildup of hydrogen gas.

Air Photo Service/AP
From right to left, reactors 1, 2 and 3, as seen on March 20. Workers started pumping seawater into the reactor cores to help cool them down; the corrosive salt water permanently disabled the reactors. i i

hide captionFrom right to left, reactors 1, 2 and 3, as seen on March 20. Workers started pumping seawater into the reactor cores to help cool them down; the corrosive salt water permanently disabled the reactors.

Air Photo Service/AP
From right to left, reactors 1, 2 and 3, as seen on March 20. Workers started pumping seawater into the reactor cores to help cool them down; the corrosive salt water permanently disabled the reactors.

From right to left, reactors 1, 2 and 3, as seen on March 20. Workers started pumping seawater into the reactor cores to help cool them down; the corrosive salt water permanently disabled the reactors.

Air Photo Service/AP
The facilities at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were designed to withstand strong earthquakes and tsunamis, but not to the strength and size experienced on March 11.

hide captionThe facilities at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were designed to withstand strong earthquakes and tsunamis, but not to the strength and size experienced on March 11.

Air Photo Service/AP
Reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 (right to left) and the turbine buildings (foreground), seen on March 20. i i

hide captionReactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 (right to left) and the turbine buildings (foreground), seen on March 20.

Air Photo Service/AP
Reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 (right to left) and the turbine buildings (foreground), seen on March 20.

Reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 (right to left) and the turbine buildings (foreground), seen on March 20.

Air Photo Service/AP
This small, unmanned plane captured images from above the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. i i

hide captionThis small, unmanned plane captured images from above the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Air Photo Service/AP
This small, unmanned plane captured images from above the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

This small, unmanned plane captured images from above the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Air Photo Service/AP

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