Is a nuclear meltdown underway at Japan’s Fukushima plant? [Updated]

Compounding the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan are fears of an impending nuclear disaster. According to the New York Times, “An explosion at a nuclear power plant in northern Japan on Saturday blew the roof off one building, brought down walls and caused a radiation leak of unspecified proportions, Japanese officials said, after Friday’s huge earthquake caused critical failures in the plant’s cooling system.”

Here is video of the actual explosion:

UPDATE: Reports out of Japan are growing more ominous. The Washington Post reports:

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said officials were acting on the assumption that a meltdown could be underway at that reactor, Fukushima Daiichi’s unit 3, and that it was “highly possible” that a meltdown was underway at Fukushima Daiichi’s unit 1 reactor, where an explosion destroyed a building a day earlier.

Hours before he spoke, authorities began evacuating more than 200,000 residents from a 12.5-mile radius around Fukushima Daiichi and another nuclear power complex, made preparations to distribute potassium iodide pills, and warned people in the vicinity to stay inside and cover their mouths if they ventured outdoors.

Federal safety agency officials said that as many as 160 people had been exposed to radiation from the plants. “Only the gravest danger would justify an evacuation at such a moment,” said Peter Bradford, a former commissioner at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.