Japan’s nightmare gets even WORSE: All THREE damaged nuclear reactors now in ‘meltdown’ at tsunami-hit power station
By Richard Shears
14th March 2011
* Fuel rods appear to be melting inside three over-heating reactors
* Experts class development as ‘partial meltdown’
* Japan calls for U.S. help cooling the reactor
* 180,000 people have been evacuated amid meltdown fears
The Japanese nuclear reactor hit by the tsunami went into ‘meltdown’ today, as officials admitted that fuel rods appear to be melting inside three damaged reactors.
There is a risk that molten nuclear fuel can melt through the reactor’s safety barriers and cause a serious radiation leak.
There have already been explosions inside two over-heating reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, and the fuel rods inside a third were partially exposed as engineers desperately fight to keep them cool after the tsunami knocked out systems.
A former nuclear power plant designer has said Japan is facing an extremely grave crisis and called on the government to release more information, which he said was being suppressed. Masashi Goto told a news conference in Tokyo that one of the reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant was “highly unstable”, and that if there was a meltdown the “consequences would be tremendous”. He said such an event might be very likely indeed. So far, the government has said a meltdown would not lead to a sizeable leak of radioactive materials.
‘Meltdown’: The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant moments after it was rocked by a second explosion today. Officials later admitted that fuel rods are ‘highly likely’ to be melting in three damaged reactors
‘Meltdown’: The Fukushima Daiichi
Fireball: A build-up of hydrogen in Unit Three of Fukushima ignites in a ball of fire that can be seen for miles
Extensive damage: Experts now debating if radiation could hit US west Coast
WHAT HAPPENS IN A NUCLEAR MELTDOWN ?
The Japanese reactors work by harnessing the energy of thousands of nuclear fuel rods, that are normally kept submerged in water to keep them cool.
But if the cooling system fails, the heat generated by the nuclear reaction increases uncontrollably.
If that continues for long enough, the nuclear fuel can melt, forming molten pools on the floor of the reactor at thousands of degrees celcius.
This is a meltdown.
These pools of molten fuel can melt through the reactor safety barriers – there is an inner and outer shield.
The worst case scenario is that the protective shield around the reactors is melted away, resulting in a serious leak of radioactive material.
Some experts class that a partial meltdown of the reactor, but others would only use that term for when molten nuclear fuel melts through a reactor’s inner chamber – but not through the outer containment shell.
As fuel rods melt, they form an extremely hot molten pool at the bottom of the reactor that can melt through even the toughest of containment barriers.
Japan is fighting to avoid a nuclear catastrophe after the tsunami. There was a hydrogen explosion at the reactor in Unit Three of the power station earlier today, in which eleven workers were hurt by the blast that was felt 25 miles away.
The reactor at Unit One of Fukushima exploded on Saturday, blowing several walls away but engineers said the core was still contained. The fuel rods in the reactor in Unit Two of the plant were partially exposed from their coolant today – which also increases the risk of meltdown.
Engineers have been fighting to keep the reactors under control after the tsunami knocked out emergency coolant systems on Friday.
Earlier engineers were frantically trying to cool radioactive materials at all the reactors with seawater but had halted the process, which resulted in a rise in radiation levels and pressure.
Plant managers knew an explosion was a possibility as they struggled to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessel in Unit Three, but apparently felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid a complete meltdown.
In the end, the hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the blast, which was felt 25 miles away.
The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Company said radiation levels at the reactor were still within legal limits.
A Red Cross rescue worker, in red, is scanned for signs of radiation after returning from Fukushima to his hospital in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture
Consequences of meltdown: this graphic shows how a full-scale meltdown could affect the United States
ARE YOU READY FOR AN EMERGENCY?
U.S. NAVY FLEES RADIOACTIVE PLUME FROM REACTOR BLAST
The Unites States Navy has moved its Seventh Fleet away from an earthquake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant after detecting raised radiation levels.
The fleet said today that the radiation was from a plume of smoke and steam released from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which has been hit by two explosions since Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, pictured, was about 100miles (160km) offshore when its instruments detected the radiation.
But the fleet said the dose of radiation was about the same as one month’s normal exposure to natural background radiation in the environment. The aircraft carrier is the USS Ronald Reagan
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the Unit Three reactor’s inner containment vessel holding nuclear rods is intact, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment and public.
The government had warned that a further explosion was possible because of the build-up of hydrogen in the building housing the reactor.
More than 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area.
Japan has distributed 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centres as a precaution. it can be used to protect against thyroid cancer in the event of a radiation leak.
The developments came as Californian officials monitor the situation, amid fears that nuclear material could be blown across the Atlantic to the U.S. if there is a large leak.
However, the winds could shift and hit a different part of the U.S after crossing the Pacific.
Michael Sicilia, spokesman for California Department of Public Health, said: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely in conjunction with our federal partners.’
In the event of a major leak, radiation would take between seven and 10 days to cross the Atlantic.
In Japan earlier a state of emergency had been declared after the high levels of radiation were detected at the nuclear power complex.
Thousands of families have been evacuated and many more were yesterday being checked for radiation exposure as Japan began to take stock of what the prime minister labelled its ‘most severe crisis since the Second World War’ – when the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Tens of thousands are feared dead, with bodies being picked up from beaches along a 300-mile stretch of coastline.
Reaching out: A young woman who has been isolated at a makeshift facility to screen, cleanse and isolate people with high radiation levels, looks at her dog through a window in Nihonmatsu, northern Japan
AIRLINE’S RADIATION FEARS
German carrier Luftansa has begun scanning flights from Japan for radioactive material – but have not found any yet.
Airport fire services have checked planes landing at Frankfurt and Munich, an official spokesman confirmed.
The carrier are the first to take the action – as a U.S. aircraft carrier sent to help relief efforts was forced to move because of the radiation leak at Fukushima.
The ship was around 100 miles north-east of the plant when radiation was detected.
Others are being gathered from the sea and thousands more are believed to lie buried deep in mud under the debris of homes and cars. At least 10,000 people – half the population of the port of Minami Sanriku – were unaccounted for and the town has been virtually wiped off the map.
Nearby Rikuzentakata was also swamped and destroyed by Friday’s tsunami, killing at least 400 people.
Hundreds of Britons – many of them English language teachers – are among the missing.
Some 100,000 troops and civil defence members, backed by ships and helicopters, yesterday began the mammoth task of clearing rubble and searching for survivors and bodies.
So many people died because when the nine-magnitude Pacific Ocean earthquake struck 80 miles off the coast of Sendai, warnings were issued that a tsunami would hit land in an hour.
But survivors said it struck in nine minutes.
There were warnings last night that strong aftershocks, with a magnitude of six or more, could be expected for at least another week – and Tokyo shuddered several times yesterday as a series of shocks struck the city.
Before and after: The Fukushima plant has suffered two major blasts since the earthquake last week – as can be seen from the image, right
Horrific memories: The towns destroyed by the tsunami look very similar to Hiroshima in 1945
But the gravest consequence of the earthquake and tsunami could yet be felt, as scientists frantically tried to control the threat of nuclear meltdown.
Men in white protective suits and masks swept Geiger counters over frightened survivors yesterday as nuclear experts around the world monitored the crippled and unstable Fukushima plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo.
Up to 200,000 people were evacuated from within a 12-mile radius of the plant, which remains the biggest threat.
Officials revealed that 22 people had already been recorded with radiation poisoning, and they said around 190 were in the plant’s vicinity when radioactive steam was deliberately leaked in an attempt to cool the reactors.
And the words designed to reassure the public that they were in no danger from any leaked radiation were at odds with those from the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power.
The company conceded that radiation levels around the complex had risen above the safety limit but tried to appease the public by stating
that it did not mean an ‘immediate threat’ to human health.
It also emerged yesterday that the government ignored explicit warnings from a Japanese expert on nuclear power more than three years ago.
Professor Ishibashi Katsuhiko, of Kobe University, said the guidelines introduced to protect the nuclear plants were ‘seriously flawed’ and that the plants were vulnerable to major quakes.
‘Unless radical steps are taken now to reduce the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to earthquakes, Japan could experience a true nuclear catastrophe in the near future,’ he warned in 2007.
Elsewhere, millions of people are without power and water, factories will remain closed for weeks and Tokyo has been warned there will probably have to be power cuts to conserve electricity.
At rescue centres in Sendai, where people prepared for a third night sleeping on the floor, notice boards are cluttered with the names of the missing.
Weeping survivors said they could only pray that poor communications had failed to put them in touch with their loved ones. One elderly woman reading through one of the lists suddenly exclaimed:’That’s me! They say I’m missing. Well, here I am. My sons must be worried sick about me. But I’m OK.’
Rail services to Sendai and beyond were postponed indefinitely and the only way anyone had any hope of reaching the stricken region was by air, flying to towns on the west coast and attempting to drive across the island. But police have blocked many roads, to keep them clear for rescue vehicles and ambulances.
From the air, rail carriages could be seen lying on their sides. Cars and houses were piled up like debris thrown on to a huge rubbish tip.
So how alarmed should we be over this crisis?
By MICHAEL HANLON
Enthusiasts for atomic power are today, inevitably, on the back foot. Those who argue that in the normal course of things nuclear energy is the safest and most reliable form of energy have to contend with a single word: ‘meltdown’.
This is a scenario that brings dread to the hearts of nuclear engineers – an uncontained chain reaction in a reactor core, a blob of molten radioactive metal burning its way out of the containment chamber and a massive release of radioactive fission products such as iodine-131 and strontium-90 into the environment.
It was a partial meltdown which led to the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1978, and a similar explosive breakdown that caused the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Both incidents brought strident calls to abandon nuclear power altogether – calls which are bound to intensify following the still-unfolding Japanese catastrophe.
On top of the worst earthquake in its history and a tsunami which may have killed tens of thousands, Japan – a nation which for obvious reasons after the events of 1945 has a love-hate relationship with nuclear power – is staring into the atomic abyss.
What actually caused the accident at Fukushima is still unclear but it seems that in simple terms, the power station was hit by a power cut.
First, seismic detectors at the plant, alerted by the earthquake, triggered an automatic shutdown – by inserting boron rods into the reactor cores, stopping the heat-producing fission reaction.
Normally, the reactor fuel would simply have cooled down safely over a matter of days. But then the tsunami swept through local power grids and back-up generators which provided the electricity for the reactor cooling pumps – possibly fracturing the water main into the plant as well.
Like a car engine with a leaking radiator, the heat started to build up to dangerous levels. Nuclear power stations are essentially huge kettles. You have a power source – the nuclear reactor itself – which gets hot; several hundred degrees in a controlled fission reaction.
The heat is produced by the fission – splitting – of atoms of radioactive materials, such as uranium.
This produces not only heat but radiation, and also the creation of radioactive by-products which themselves emit heat as they undergo radioactive decay.
This explains why, even if the primary nuclear reaction is stopped, heat will continue to be generated for days – enough to melt the reactor core if it is not cooled. In normal operation, all this heat is useful – it is used to boil water, which makes steam that is then used to drive electricity-generating turbines.
The problem is that you cannot simply turn off an atomic reactor instantly. It takes days for the red-hot fuel rods to cool down – and that is provided they are supplied with adequate coolant.
Professor Richard Wakeford, a nuclear expert at Manchester University, said yesterday: ‘If the fuel is not covered by cooling water it could become so hot it begins to melt – if all the fuel is uncovered you could get a large-scale meltdown.’
Hopefully this will not happen, and thanks to both the design of the Japanese reactors and to the swift and organised response of the authorities, handing out iodine pills to prevent the ingestion of cancer-causing substances, there is little chance that Fukushima will enter the annals of notoriety alongside Chernobyl.
One possibility which can be discounted is the so-called ‘China Syndrome’, the wholly fictitious idea that a molten reactor core could melt its way through the Earth and emerge on the other side. It is now known that even a total meltdown, although deadly, would soon be contained and cool down naturally. But already questions are being asked – about Japan’s nuclear safety record, and what implications this has outside Japan.
Was it wrong to build a series of atomic reactors so close to the ocean? Experts suggest that given the whole country is an earthquake zone, there is nowhere the plant could be built which would not be at risk.
Unlike Chernobyl, there is no chance that this could become an international incident; Japan is simply too far away from anywhere else for the radiation to spread, and the most serious radioactive contaminant – Iodine-131 – has a half-life of just eight days. Furthermore, the Japanese government is rich, competent and open – which the Soviet authorities in 1986 conspicuously were not.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365781/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-All-3-Fukushima-nuclear-plant-reactors-meltdown.html#ixzz1GbwEENuW
U.S. Navy crewmembers in Japan
By Michael Sheridan
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Originally Published:Monday, March 14th 2011, 6:57 AM
Updated: Monday, March 14th 2011, 10:07 AM
Seventeen crewmembers on three U.S. Navy helicopters were found to have been contaminated with low levels of radiation, officials say.
Should American forces be in Japan aiding with relief efforts?
Absolutely. We need to stand with our Japanese friends as long as we are needed.
No. We are facing a budget crisis – we need to look inward before looking outward.
The radioactivity was detected when the service members returned to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan aboard three helicopters. They were treated with soap and water and their clothes were discarded.
“No further contamination was detected,” the military said.
The helicopters were also decontaminated.
The U.S. 7th Fleet, positioned about 100 miles northeast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to deliver aid to Japan’s coastal region, moved its ships further away due to “airborne radioactivity” and contamination found on its planes.
The military noted, however, that the level of contamination was very low, and the ship movement was merely a precaution.
“For perspective, the maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship’s force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun,” the Navy said.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a second explosion Sunday. At least six workers at the plant were injured in the blast, officials said. A smaller explosion rocked the plant on Saturday.
Radioactive steam was vented recently from the plant in order to ease pressure on the reactors and prevent another meltdown, CNN reported. It is believe that a meltdown previously occurred in at least one of the reactors in the last few days.
“We remain totally committed to our mission of providing assistance to the people of Japan,” Navy spokesman Jeff Davis told ABC News.
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Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2011/03/14/2011-03-14_17_us_navy_crewmembers_exposed_to_low_level_radiation_in_japan.html#ixzz1GbxJ1NDA
Winds at Japan Power Plants Should Send Radiation out to Sea
By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
Mar 14, 2011; 9:26 AM ET
Following Friday’s major earthquake east of Japan, fears were raised of radiations leaks and nuclear meltdowns at power plants.
Radiation was reported to be leaking over the weekend from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from one of the reactors that had lost its cooling system.
CNN reports that a cooling system of a second reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failed on Sunday, forcing officials to expand the evacuation zone of surrounding residents from 10 km to 20 km (6 miles to 12 miles).
Complicating matters, a second hydrogen explosion occurred at the plant early Monday.
A man holds his baby as they are scanned for levels of radiation in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011. Friday’s quake and tsunami damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant in the prefecture, and at least one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown, raising fears of a radiation leak. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A state of emergency was declared on Sunday at a nuclear power plant in Onagawa, Japan, as well. Excessive radiation levels have been recorded following Friday’s earthquake, according to the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency.
Three reactor units at the Onagawa plant are being watched and controlled for radiation leaks and possible meltdown.
The wind direction may impact where the radiation goes both at a local level and even across the globe. The wind direction at both of these locations are similar since the Onagawa power plant is located just to the northeast of Fukushima power plant.
“The exact direction of the winds would have to be known at the time of the release of a large amount of radiation to understand exactly where the radiation would go,” according to Expert Senior Global Meteorologist Jim Andrews.
It is unknown when a large release of radiation would occur, if at all, at this point.
“You can calculate how long the release of a radiation would take to cross the Pacific from Japan to the U.S. by choosing different speeds that the radioactive particles might be moving and using the direct distance between given locations- say Sendai, Japan, and Seattle, Wash.,” Andrews added.
However, even that calculation may not reflect how long the particle would take to cross the Pacific, since it would not likely cross the ocean in a direct path. This is the case because the wind flow is often a complicated pattern.
A typical wind trajectory across the Pacific is westerly, since there is often a large dome of high pressure over the central Pacific and an area of low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska.
Any storm systems moving across the Pacific would add kinks in the westerly flow that would make the path of a particle crossing the Pacific longer.
“In other words, it would be a very intricate and difficult calculation,” said Andrews.
On a local level, it is easier to break down the direction of the wind.
On Monday, the winds at the Fukushima power plant and the Onagawa power plant will generally be out of the north to northwest. So, the wind flow will still be directed offshore into the Pacific.
This would be a protective wind that would blow most of the radiation out to sea.
The wind direction will switch to an onshore direction Monday night into Tuesday, threatening to send the radiation toward the population.
“We are getting into the time of year where onshore winds occur most often,” said Andrews.
This is not good news, since an onshore direction would blow most of the radiation toward populated areas. An added threat is that with higher elevations just about 4 miles inland from the power plants, if a temperature inversion sets up in the atmosphere, radiation could be trapped.
Authorities have warned residents to keep windows and doors closed and air-conditioning fans switched off to eliminate the intake of air from outside.
Calculated time for radioactive particles to cross the Pacific from the power plants in Japan to big West Coast cities if the particles take a direct path and move at a speed of 20 mph:
Cities Est. Distance (miles) Est. Time to Cross Pacific (days)
Anchorage 3,457 7
Honolulu 3,847 8
Seattle 4,792 10
Los Angeles 5,477 11
THOUSANDS OF BODIES WASH ASHORE overwhelms quake-hit Japan
By JAY ALABASTER and TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Todd Pitman, Associated Press – Mon Mar 14, 11:50 am ET
TAKAJO, Japan – A tide of bodies washed up along Japan’s coastline Monday, overwhelming crematoriums, exhausting supplies of body bags and adding to the spiraling humanitarian, economic and nuclear crisis after the massive earthquake and tsunami.
Millions of people faced a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures along the northeast coast devastated by Friday’s disasters. Meanwhile, a third reactor at a nuclear power plant lost its cooling capacity and its fuel rods were fully exposed, raising fears of a meltdown. The stock market plunged over the likelihood of huge losses by Japanese industries including big names such as Toyota and Honda.
On the coastline of Miyagi prefecture, which took the full force of the tsunami, a Japanese police official said 1,000 bodies were found scattered across the coastline. Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, reported that 2,000 bodies washed up on two shorelines in Miyagi.
In one town in a neighboring prefecture, the crematorium was unable to handle the large number of bodies being brought in for funerals.
“We have already begun cremations, but we can only handle 18 bodies a day. We are overwhelmed and are asking other cites to help us deal with bodies. We only have one crematorium in town,” Katsuhiko Abe, an official in Soma, told The Associated Press.
While the official death toll rose to nearly 1,900, the discovery of the washed-up bodies and other reports of deaths suggest the true number is much higher. In Miyagi, the police chief has said 10,000 people are estimated to have died in his province alone.
The outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, told reporters Monday that the disaster was “punishment from heaven” because Japanese have become greedy.
Across Japan, most people opt to cremate their dead. With so many bodies, the government on Monday waived a rule requiring permission first from local authorities before cremation or burial to speed up funerals, said Health Ministry official Yukio Okuda.
“The current situation is so extraordinary, and it is very likely that crematoriums are running beyond capacity,” said Okuda. “This is an emergency measure. We want to help quake-hit people as much as we can.”
Friday’s double tragedy has caused unimaginable deprivation for people of this industrialized country — Asia’s richest — which hasn’t seen such hardship since World War II. In many areas there is no running water, no power and four- to five-hour waits for gasoline. People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes
“People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming,” said Hajime Sato, a government official in Iwate prefecture, one of the hardest hit.
Sato said deliveries of food and other supplies were just 10 percent of what is needed. Body bags and coffins were running so short that the government may turn to foreign funeral homes for help, he said.
“We have requested funeral homes across the nation to send us many body bags and coffins. But we simply don’t have enough,” he said. “We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It’s just overwhelming.”
The pulverized coast has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since Friday, the latest one a 6.2 magnitude quake that was followed by a new tsunami scare Monday.
As sirens wailed, soldiers abandoned their search operations and told residents of the devastated shoreline in Soma, the worst hit town in Fukushima prefecture, to run to safety.
They barked out orders: “Find high ground! Get out of here!” Several soldiers were seen leading an old woman up a muddy hillside. The warning turned out to be a false alarm and interrupted the efforts of search parties who arrived in Soma for the first time since Friday to dig out bodies.
Ambulances stood by and body bags were laid out in an area cleared of debris, as firefighters used hand picks and chain saws to clear a jumble of broken timber, plastic sheets, roofs, sludge, twisted cars, tangled power lines and household goods.
Ships were flipped over near roads, a half-mile (a kilometer) inland. Officials said one-third of the city of 38,000 people was flooded and thousands were missing.
Though Japanese officials have refused to speculate on how high the death toll could rise, an expert who dealt with the 2004 Asian tsunami offered a dire outlook.
“It’s a miracle really, if it turns out to be less than 10,000” dead, said Hery Harjono, a senior geologist with the Indonesian Science Institute, who was closely involved with the aftermath of the earlier disaster that killed 230,000 people — of which only 184,000 bodies were found.
He drew parallels between the two disasters — notably that many bodies in Japan may have been sucked out to sea or remain trapped beneath rubble as they did in Indonesia’s hardest-hit Aceh province. But he also stressed that Japan’s infrastructure, high-level of preparedness and city planning to keep houses away from the shore could mitigate its human losses.
According to public broadcaster NHK, some 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives. Another 24,000 people are stranded, it said.
One reason for the loss of power is the damage to several nuclear reactors in the area. At one plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, three reactors have lost the ability to cool down. A building holding one of them exploded on Monday. Operators were dumping sea water into all three reactors in a final attempt to cool their superheated containers that faced possible meltdown. If that happens, they could release radioactive material in the air.
Though people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius were ordered to leave over the weekend, authorities told anyone remaining there or in nearby areas to stay inside their homes following the blast.
Military personnel on helicopters returning to ships with the U.S. 7th Fleet registered low-level of radioactive contamination Monday, but were cleared after a scrub-down. As a precaution, the ships shifted to a different area off the coast.
So far, Tokyo Electric Power, the nuclear plant’s operator, is holding off on imposing the rolling blackouts it earlier said it would need but the utility urged people to limit electricity use. To help reduce the power load, many regional train lines were suspended or operating on a limited schedule.
The impact that lack of electricity, damaged roads and railways and ruined plants would have on the world’s third-largest economy helped drag down the share markets on Monday, the first business day since the disasters. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average fell 6.2 percent while the broader Topix index lost 7.5 percent.
To lessen the damage, Japan’s central bank injected 15 trillion yen (US$184 billion) into money markets.
Beyond the stock exchanges, recovering from the disaster is likely to weigh on already debt-burdened Japan, which has barely managed weak growth between slowdowns for 20 years.
Initial estimates put repair costs in the tens of billions of dollars, costs that would likely add to a massive public debt that, at 200 percent of gross domestic product, is the biggest among industrialized nations.
Pitman reported from Sendai. Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Soma, Kelly Olsen in Koriyama, Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.
The World From Berlin
Nuclear Disaster ‘Will Have Political Impact as Great as 9/11’
The nuclear disaster in Fukushima makes it hard to ignore the vulnurabilities of the technology. It could spell the end of nuclear power, German commentators argue on Monday. The government in Berlin may now cave in to mounting pressure to suspend its 12-year extension of reactor lifetimes, they say.
The nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has led to anxious questions in Germany about the safety of its own nuclear reactors and is putting the government under intense pressure to rethink its decision to extend plant lifetimes by an average of 12 years.
German media commentators across the political spectrum are saying the accident in a highly developed nation such as Japan is further evidence that nuclear power isn’t safe. One commentator in the conservative Die Welt went as far as to liken the global impact of the Fukushima explosions to that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Merkel reversed the plan to stop Nuclear construction.
She argued that nuclear power was needed as “bridge technology” to ensure the supply of affordable power as Germany converts to renewable energy generation. She plans to increase the share of renewable generation to 80 percent by 2050, from a current level of only 16 percent.
A majority of Germans are opposed to nuclear power and the Fukushima accident is becoming a campaign issue ahead of state elections, the most important of which is being held in the conservative-ruled and wealthy state of Baden-Württemberg on March 27. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has held the state since 1953, and a defeat would be a major psychological blow to the chancellor and her party.
Photo Gallery: Japan Earthquake Disaster in Pictures
It would also make it harder for her to pass legislation because the opposition parties would gain power in the country’s upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat, which represents the interests of the states and has the right of co-determination on many important laws.
On Monday, support in Merkel’s coalition for extending nuclear lifetimes started to crumble. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the FDP, called for a safety review at all German nuclear plants. Power stations whose cooling systems were found to lack multiple safety levels would have to be switched off “until the situation is totally clear.”
Other members of the coalition have also been calling for a rethink.
German media commentators say Fukushima may force Merkel to shut German reactors down sooner.
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“The events in Japan, which geographically couldn’t be much further from Germany, will influence politics in this country. They could soon start changing majorities and make governing even harder for the center-right coalition. The decision it made on nuclear power in September 2010 could be its undoing.”
“There are few issues that can fire up people’s emotions and mobilize them politically as much as nuclear power can. That’s not good news for a government that supports nuclear power. Especially ahead of important regional elections, which won’t affect the balance of power in national politics but which could well influence the morale of party workers to preserve that power.”
“It’s not good news because in the end, for example in Baden-Württemberg, it will only take a few percentage points more or less to determine the election outcome. Doubts among the supporters of the conservatives or the FDP could keep a few thousand voters from the ballot boxes — or drive them into the arms of the center-left parties.”
“For Merkel, it is hard to imagine a greater accident at present than the loss of a CDU governor in Baden-Württemberg.”
“The safety precautions (at the Japanese nuclear plant) weren’t just insufficient; the operating company TEPCO systematically breached them, as the government ascertained in 2002. TEPCO falsified security reports in more than 200 cases.”
“Japan is a democracy, but so far the control of the government by the voters has hardly worked. Things only got a little better after the Democratic Party came to power two years ago. Before that, the often incompetent and corrupt governments were never voted out of office. The perestroika that Japan so urgently needs has scarcely begun.”
“The unpopular government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been on the brink of collapse in recent weeks. It seemed paralyzed, distracted, disoriented and divided. Now it has to lead the country through what may be its worst disaster since 1945. Can it? In the Soviet Union the Chernobyl disaster accelerated the downfall of a broken, paralyzed political system.”
Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
“It was always said that danger only came from rickety old reactors in former Eastern Bloc states — while conveniently ignoring that Sweden, France or the United States kept on narrowly avoiding maximum credible accidents. The disaster of Fukushima has made clear: There are situations in which even triple safety systems fail.”
“The weak argument offered by the nuclear lobby that Germany isn’t prone to heavy earthquakes and tsunamis doesn’t apply. If a chain of serious events and stupid coincidences cause prolonged power outages, if the access routes are blocked or if the control room is destroyed by a plane crash, German reactors too will overheat. ”
Conservative Die Welt writes:
“The earthquake of March 11 was no terrorist attack. But its political and psychological consequences will be as great as 9/11 because it has shown what a terrorist attack on nuclear plants would look like.”
“The photos of burning buildings being swept away are disturbing enough, but nuclear power makes the decisive difference. The shockwave that went out from Fukushima may have only reached three kilometers in physical terms. But in mental terms it went around the whole world.”
“Chernobyl was a special case. Nuclear energy was viewed with suspicion but it was accepted as long as modern democracies harnessed it with security precautions.”
“That is over now. Faith in redundant, coincidence-proof security precautions has been wiped out by Fukushima. The high-tech democracy Japan has shown what could happen if an Internet attack on German or French nuclear reactors were to happen as it did with the ‘Stuxnet’ program against the Iranian nuclear program. Or if a determined, technologically skilled terrorist group were to seize control of a power station. One knew it before. Seeing it has made the difference.”
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“It seems inappropriate to criticize the information policy of the Japanese government. Some of its statements may seem a bit overly reticent, but one should allow a government the right not to descend into speculation about all the theoretically possible scenarios. People are already being inundated by enough of such speculation.”
“Japan has always been at the forefront of disaster relief efforts in other parts of the world. That is why the country now has at least a moral claim to assistance from its friends. People abroad may find it irritating that the country will probably have to keep on using nuclear power in the future. But this isn’t the time for know-it-all advice. One should imagine what would have happened if a reactor in a country with less rigid safety standards had been subjected to such an earthquake.”
The mass-circulation Bild tabloid writes:
“The nuclear accident is giving even firm supporters of nuclear power cause for thought, because the unthinkable happened in Fukushima. But even if we wanted to, we couldn’t switch off all nuclear reactors overnight. Because the lights would literally go out. The maximum credible accident of Fukushima forces us to check the safety standards of our nuclear power stations. And to think harder about the quickest possible way to get out of nuclear power generation.”
“The Japanese tragedy will dramatically change the debate over nuclear power. But the issue is too serious to start fanning people’s fears in election campaigns. It may be tempting for campaigners to go out hunting for votes with the suffering of the Japanese. But that would be shabby, pitiful and repellent.”
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
“This hasn’t hit a run-down Soviet reactor, a badly constructed Russian plutonium machine which supplied the army with material for their nuclear weapons, as was the case with Chernobyl in 1986. Then and ever since, the builders of nuclear power stations in Europe, North America and Japan boasted that a serious accident could be virtually ruled out thanks to superior Western nuclear technology.”
“Every country — Germany, the US and Japan — claimed to have the world’s best reactors. Everything was secured several times over, all conceivable problems could be handled, all eventualities were prepared for, they said.”
“The disaster at Fushima shows: It’s simply not true.”
“It is unlikely to be a coincidence that it was an old reactor with a design from the 1960s that got into trouble. The technology of this type of plant, which also operates in Germany, is outdated. Its safety level is significantly below that of modern nuclear plants, they wouldn’t get construction approval these days. The accident has reinforced the lessons to be drawn from this: The plants that were originally intended for a lifespan of 40 years must not have their lifetimes extended, as is being done everywhere both in the West and the East — because it yields major profits for the operators.”
“On the contrary: the old reactors in particular must be taken off the grid as soon as possible. Germany realized that more than a decade ago, when the center-left government negotiated the nuclear phaseout with the power companies. For the center-right risk prolongers in Berlin, Fukushima is the writing on the wall, whether they’re ready to realize that or not.”
“The radioactive fallout from Fukushima won’t hit Germany, but the political fallout has already arrived. People are alarmed and there is major uncertainty about ‘peaceful’ nuclear power, not just among diehard anti-nuclear campaigners.”
— David Crossland
Fukushima Fallout: Next Few Days Critical
4:50pm UK, Sunday March 13, 2011
Natalie Fahy and Katie Cassidy, Sky News Online
Nuclear experts have warned the next few days will be crucial in determining exactly how bad the fallout from the Fukushima power plant disaster could be.
They say advanced Japanese engineering at the 40-year-old facility will avoid a Chernobyl-style disaster, but any radiation leak could still have disastrous consequences.
During Friday’s megaquake most of Japan’s 50 nuclear power stations shut down as expected, but at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant the system failed.
A hydrogen blast at its number one reactor has destroyed part of the building but did not prompt a major radiation leak.
However, experts have warned there could be a second explosion at the plant’s number three reactor.
Reactors convert the energy stored in nuclear fuel rods into electricity, and in doing so generate immense heat.
Water is circulated through the reactor core to keep the fuel rods from overheating.
In case of an emergency each power station has a back-up system to keep reactors cool.
But during the quake – which has been upgraded to 9 on the Richter scale – power at the Fukushima facility was lost and the back-up system failed.
Diesel generators should have kicked in to provide emergency cooling, but they were also damaged and coolant stopped circulating.
The remaining water is likely to eventually boil away, exposing the fuel rods.
If a cooling system is not restored, it could lead to what is known as a meltdown – when the core melts and radiation escapes into the atmosphere.
Officials were now pumping seawater into reactor number three to keep its temperature down.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said radiation levels at the Fukushima plant had risen above the safety limit but there was no “immediate threat” to humans.
Chernobyl was a very big accident and this is certainly not on that scale.
Professor Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl tissue bank at Imperial College London
Despite this, a 12m exclusion zone has been set up around the facility and some 140,000 people have been moved from the area.
Evacuees were being tested for radiation at screening centres and authorities prepared to distribute iodine to protect people from any radioactive exposure.
Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl tissue bank at Imperial College London, explained why iodine is needed in the body.
“The thyroid actually takes up iodine to make the thyroid hormones. It remains in the gland and the tissues in the thyroid,” she said.
“It is important to get stable iodine into the thyroid gland to prevent the uptake of radioactive iodine.
“It is extremely unlikely there will be a significant release (of radioactive iodine from the Fukushima plant).”
Nuclear Consultant John Large On Fukushima Fears
In small doses, such as during an X-ray, radiation causes no harm to humans.
But if radioactive particles should enter the body in large doses, health risks range from vomiting, hair loss and in extreme cases, cancer.
But Professor Thomas said the Japanese appeared to be monitoring the situation closely and taking precautionary measures.
“We won’t see any problems from this reactor. The release is tiny and likely to remain so, so I don’t think we need to worry,” she said.
“Chernobyl was a very big accident and this is certainly not on that scale.
“You need quite a large release of radioactive iodine to do any significant damage.”
Chernobyl: The site of the world’s worst nuclear accident
In 1986, the explosion of reactor number four at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant was the world’s worst nuclear incident, immediately contaminating 200 people and killing 32 within three months.
Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have suffered the after-effects of the leak.
The accident was only revealed after a giant radioactive cloud was registered moving across northern Europe.
It was marked at the maximum level seven on the IAEA’s scale of nuclear accidents.
Further contamination was reported from Chernobyl in 1995 during the removal of fuel from one of the plant’s reactors.
Professor Robin Grimes, from the Centre for Nuclear Engineering, told Sky News the Chernobyl plant was an old Russian design which had a completely different structure to Fukushima.
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania
“The plants in Japan are light water reactors so they work on a very different principle,” he said.
“The type of problems that one might anticipate will be quite different to Chernobyl.”
He added that the Fukushima incident was more on the scale of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which was registered at five.
Then, 140,000 people were evacuated after the reactor’s core suffered a partial meltdown.
Although there was contamination within the plant, there was none outside and no casualties.
Japan has experienced the only two deadly nuclear accidents since Chernobyl – one in Tokaimura in 1999 which killed two workers and another in Mihama in 2004 which resulted in four deaths.
Tokaimura is Japan’s worst nuclear accident to date, exposing more than 600 people to radiation.