This really was sad, and seems the more news comes out the worse it is. Prayers and thoughts are with the people of Japan, one of our closest allies in the world.
I fear the death toll is going to climb to some pretty bad numbers when all is said and done (reports of an entire passanger train missing
Make that 4 (four!) trains! I just hope they weren't full with commuters or travelers.
As for the nuclear plans, the latest news is mixed at best:
Explosion at Japan nuke plant, disaster toll rises - Yahoo! News
One of the two endangered plants had the containment building of one of its reactors explode and the exterior walls are gone. The actual metal containment vessel (or whatever you call it) is still intact. Evacuations are now mandatory out to 12 miles (it was 6 miles prior to the explosion, and I think it was voluntary- though the article didn't address if the prior evacuation order was voluntary or mandatory). Radiation counts, which had been going up, actually went down after the explosion (though, they are 8 times normal outside the plant, and 1000 times normal in the control room).
According to several experts interviewed (including a Russian one, not sure why that is important info), it is a very different design than Chernobyl. Likely worst case scenario, even with a total meltdown, is minor with the effects likely contained within the grounds of the plant.
Two plants in total have lost their cooling ability due to damages, and "some" of Japan's 55 nuclear power units at 17 power plants are "in trouble".
They also talked generally about the damages to Japan, the death toll, and rescue efforts:
-4 missing trains
-574 official death count, but will likely be over 1300
-23ft tsunami, which in places reached 6 miles into the interior of the country
-at least 215,000 people are living in temporary shelters
-more than 1 million people are without hot water and 4 million buildings are without power
-The U.S. has pledged to help (other articles have noted that all U.S. servicemen are accounted for and have survived).
This is already a terrible tragedy, and I imagine there is a lot more bad news to come.