March, 2011 Archives
Japan’s nuclear safety agency has raised the assessment of the severity of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power station to 5 from 4 on a 7-level international scale. Level 4 is for incidents with local consequences while level 5 — the rating used for crisis at Three Mile Island in 1979 — indicates the spread of radiation. International nuclear experts, meanwhile, suggested that Japan should have pegged the crisis at level 5 days ago. They warned that Japanese authorities still seem to be underestimating the impact of the partial meltdowns at Fukushima. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear calamity, was rated a 7. Japan plans to import about 150 tons of boron from South Korea and France to mix with water to be sprayed onto damaged reactors, French and South Korean officials said Friday. Boron absorbs neutrons during a nuclear reaction and can be used in an effort to stop a meltdown if the zirconium cladding on uranium fuel rods is compromised. Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the Fukushima plant, has admitted there is a possibility of recriticality developing in more than 11,000 spent fuel rods that are stored in unprotected pools near the Fukushima reactors. They say fission in the tons of spent fuel could resume if fuel rods melted and their uranium pellets formed a radioactive puddle on the floor of a storage pool or reactor core. Spraying pure water on the uranium under these conditions can actually accelerate fission, nuclear engineer Robert Albrecht told the New York Times.
Federal officials found traces of radiation on a United Airlines jet that arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Tokyo Wednesday but determined that the plane’s cargo and passengers were safe, Chicago Breaking Business reports. Mayor Richard Daley acknowledged Thursday that passengers on a flight from Tokyo had set off radiation detectors at O’Hare, but he offered no details and said federal officials will be handling the situation. “Of course the protection of the person coming off the plane is very important in regards to any radiation, especially within their families and anything else,” Daley said at a downtown news conference to discuss his trip to China this week. Federal officials inspected two United Airlines jets with Geiger counters after they arrived in Chicago from Narita International Airport Wednesday, sources told the Tribune. A person familiar with the search said it was conducted by Customs and Border Patrol agents in the “guise of a random inspection.” Though officials detected trace elements of radiation on two cargo containers on one of the planes, they later determined that the packages were safe, sources said. Officials also determined the jets were safe after inspecting for radiation. The radiation plume forming over the Pacific from Japan’s nuclear crisis is a growing concern for U.S. carriers, who want to avoid contaminating aircraft surfaces and exposing passengers and employees to harmful radioactive isotopes.
The effort to contain the release of radiation at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has been stymied because radiation levels at the facility are so high that workers have been unable to successfully deploy police water cannons in a last-ditch effort to cool piles of melting reactor fuel. In the United States, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Congress the U.S. believes that Japanese officials are understating the level of radiation released at the Fukushima complex. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko warned any Americans still in Japan to leave an area within a 50-mile radius of the nuclear power plant. Thus far, Japan’s exclusionary zone has been set at a 20-mile radius, with a warning that people living between 20 and 30 miles of the power station should stay indoors and seal their windows and doors. Two of the six reactors at the Fukushima complex are believed to be in a state of meltdown. Concrete and steel containment vessels encasing the two reactors most likely have been breached, experts say. Of even greater concern, in terms of the release of high-level radiation are piles of spent reactor fuel rods that are stored in pools located directly under damaged outer containment structures of the reactors at Fukushima. Aerial photos of reactor no. 4 appear to show about 80 tons of smoldering fuel rods exposed directly to the air. Workers attempting to use police water cannons to spray the spent fuel piles could not get within 50 yards of the reactors due to severe radiation. Radiation also inhibited efforts to use helicopters to dump water on the crippled reactors from the air, as pilots could not fly low enough to hit the target. Under pressure from the global news media, Japanese officials released information regarding the amount of enrich uranium and plutonium nuclear fuel at the Fukushima complex. Counting fuel rods installed in the six reactors and several piles of spent fuel rods, the total comes to more than 300 tons, nearly twice the amount that was onsite at the Chernobyl nuclear plant when it exploded in 1986.
The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan worsened considerably in the past 24 hours. Japanese officials have indicated that partial meltdowns have taken place in reactors No. 2 and No.3, and the damaged fuel rods are spewing highly radioactive steam into the atmosphere through breaches in their inner containment vessels, which are made of steel encased in concrete. The remaining skeleton crew battling the meltdowns at the Fukushima complex was temporarily evacuated from the site due to the high radiation levels, which also forced authorities to postpone an attempt to bombard the damaged plants with water and boric acid dropped from helicopters. Concerns also continued to mount for 80 tons of spent fuel rods that are stored in a pool directly under the roof of reactor No. 4’s square outer building. There is no containment vessel encasing the spent fuel, which was seen to catch fire two days ago. The current weather pattern over Fukushima appears to be blowing most of the radioactive steam out over the ocean to the east. However, meteorologists are predicting that this pattern will shift over the weekend, possibly pushing the steam to the southwest in the direction of Tokyo, which is approximately 170 miles to the south of the Fukushima complex. Japanese authorities have ordered everyone within a 20 mile radius of the nuclear complex to evacuate. They have called upon residents who live between 20 and 30 miles from the crippled power station to stay in the home and seal all windows. Officials say they have stockpiled thousands of iodine tablets for distribution if the situation worsens. The government of Japan reportedly has asked the U.S. military to assist with the damage-control operation at Fukushima. Meanwhile, the emperor of Japan made a rare appearance on Japanese television asking the nation to “remain calm.” The Fukushima disaster has prompted frantic reviews of nuclear power facilities throughout Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced yesterday that seven of the oldest nuclear power plants in Germany will be shut down immediately and checked for safety. The effects of the catastrophe continue to weigh heavily on the Japanese economy. The Japanese stock market has lost about 14 percent of its value since the earthquake and tsunami hit last Friday. Major Japanese manufacturers have been forced to suspend production due to a severe shortage of electricity. With most of the island nation’s nuclear power grid offline, the government has initiated brownouts to conserve power. Nuclear energy is Japan’s largest source of power, supplying more […]
In Japan, the word Sendai means “1000 generations.” According to local lore, the feudal warlord Date Masamune chose this name for the coastal city in northeastern Japan because he expected his clan to rule for centuries to come. We don’t know if Masamune’s descendants still walk the streets of the largest city in Japan’s northeast region. If they do, they probably are walking alongside the rest of greater Sendai’s two million residents today as they begin to flee the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Sendai was all but erased from the maps by the Allied bombing of Japan during World War II. At the end of the war, the residents of Sendai emerged from the rubble and rebuilt their city with wide avenues and a relaxed atmosphere that made it a popular destination for northern travelers on Japan’s main island. Six decades later, Sendai now faces another existential threat. The city that Allied bombers almost finished off is at the mercy of the forces of nature, relentless and indifferent to the fate of the Masamune clan. An 8.9-magnitude earthquake sent a 40-foot-high wall of water smashing into the northeast coast of Japan on Friday, setting off a catastrophic chain reaction at the Fukushima complex. Fukushima Daiichi is Japan’s largest nuclear power station, containing six reactors. In the wake of the tsunami, generators powering Fukushima’s cooling system failed in three of the reactors, setting off hydrogen explosions in two of the containment structures housing the reactors. Plant workers deployed firefighting equipment to pour seawater into the crippled reactors in a desperate effort to keep red-hot reactor fuel rods covered with coolant. A storage basin for spent fuel rods caught fire, spewing high levels of radiation into the air. Today, the crew working to contain the disaster at Fukushima has been scaled back from 800 to 50, a handful of courageous souls who must surely know that they are on a suicide mission. Two of the reactors may be in a state of meltdown, their exposed, superheated fuel rods melting and fusing into the most dangerous puddles on Earth. If a breach has occurred in one of the concrete and steel reactor-core vessels, experts say the battle to avert a catastrophic disaster at Fukushima Daiichi may already be lost. It borders on cruel to point out that Japan’s decision to place six nuclear reactors directly on top of one of the world’s most active geological fault lines—just a few feet from an ocean that can feed massive tsunamis—was an unsurpassed act of hubris. […]
The evacuation expands as 50 remaining plant workers struggle to put out a fire in a basin containing spent fuel rods from reactor No. 4.
Here is a brief list of relief organizations and information services that are mobilizing to help the people of Japan: The U.S. State Department is urging U.S. citizens to contact friends and family as soon as possible. They can also e-mail the State Department at JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Those seeking information on security in or travel to Japan can call 1-888-407-4747 or 1-202-501-4444. Google is assisting in helping victims touch base with friends and loved ones. Its People Finder allows users to look for victims or post information about people. It works in five languages. World Vision is rushing personnel into the affected areas and providing food, water, medical supplies and shelter for victims. It also plans to establish one or more “child-friendly spaces” for kids “affected by disasters to resume normal childhood activities and experience structure and security that are often lost following emergency situations.” Follow World Vision’s blog for updates, and visit its website or text “4japan” to 20222 to send a $10 donation to the group. It will show up on your next mobile phone bill. The American Red Cross is accepting donations: text “redcross” to 90999, and you can make a $10 donation to the organization. The Salvation Army is issuing updates via its blog, its Twitter feed andFacebook page. It also is accepting donations via text message. Those interested in contributing $10 to the group can text “japan” or “quake” to 80888. AmeriCares, which is also accepting donations, said it is mobilizing resources and sending an emergency response manager to the region. Save the Children is sending an emergency team to assist its staff in Japan.Donations to the group’s Children’s Emergency Fund will help preserve the welfare of young ones, who “are always the most vulnerable in a disaster,” Eiichi Sadamatsu in central Tokyo said in a statement. Globalgiving.com has established a Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. GlobalGiving will disburse funds to organizations providing aid and relief to victims. Organizations also providing aid are Save the Children and the International Medical Corps. The Corps is coordinating with local authorities and partners to determine the most pressing needs. It also is providing technical expertise and assisting with logistics. To contribute to the Corps’ efforts, visit its website or text “med” to 80888 to send the group a $10 donation. The American Humane Association has set up a relief fund for rescuing animals. Donations help provide shelter and care.
A third reactor at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant lost its cooling capabilities today. Technicians are desperately pumping seawater into the containment vessels of the crippled reactors in a last-ditch effort to avoid a full meltdown. The risky emergency measures at the plant already have resulted in hydrogen explosions in two of the containment structures, releasing radioactivity. A 20 km zone around the Fukushima facility has been evacuated, displacing approximately 250,000 residents of an area with a population of 2 million. The problem was detected in the plant’s No. 2 reactor today afternoon after an explosion rocked the building containing the plant’s No. 3 reactor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. “We think that the hydrogen explosion in (the building housing) reactor No. 3 caused the cooling system of reactor No. 2 to stop working,” Edano said. Water levels were falling and pressure was building up inside the No. 2 reactor, he said, and officials were working on a plan to release gas and also inject seawater into that reactor. Workers have been injecting seawater in a last-ditch effort to cool down fuel rods and prevent a full meltdown at two other reactors at the plant—No. 1 and No. 3—after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami Friday knocked out the reactors’ cooling systems. Japanese officials have said they believe there may be a partial meltdown in the No. 3 and No. 1 nuclear reactors. Authorities have not yet been able to confirm a meltdown, because it is too hot inside the affected reactors to check. There are six reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, located in northeastern Japan about 65 km (40 miles) south of Sendai.
Michelin North America has confirmed plans to invest $50 million to upgrade equipment and expand production at the company’s BFGoodrich Tire manufacturing facility in Woodburn, IN. The project will create about 35 new jobs at the plant, which employs almost 1,600. The Journal Gazette reported in December that company officials were considering the plant for an upgrade. At that time, a union official said he believed the company was already in the midst of a $77 million investment in the Woodburn plant. Michelin officials selected the Woodburn plant after conducting a competitive process among several company plants for the upgrade investment.
Japan warned there could be a small radiation leak from a nuclear reactor whose cooling system was knocked by Friday’s massive earthquake, but thousands of residents in the area had been moved out of harm’s way, the Vancouver Sun reports. Underscoring grave concerns about the Fukushima plant some 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. air force had delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of the facility’s nuclear rods. Pressure building in the plant was set to be released soon, a move that could result in a radiation leak, officials said. Some 3,000 people who live within a 3 km radius of the plant had been evacuated, Kyodo news agency said. “It’s possible that radioactive material in the reactor vessel could leak outside but the amount is expected to be small and the wind blowing towards the sea will be considered,” Chief Cabinet Yukio Edano told a news conference. “Residents are safe after those within a 3 km radius were evacuated and those within a 10 km radius are staying indoors, so we want people to be calm,” he added. Tokyo Electric Power Co said pressure had built up inside a reactor at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant after the cooling system was knocked out by the earthquake, the largest on record in Japan. Pressure had risen to 1.5 times the designed capacity, the Japan Nuclear Safety agency said. Media also said the radiation level was rising in the turbine building.