Tuesday 15 March 2011

This is a nuclear disaster

UPDATE 16/3 22:30:  The chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned this afternoon that all of the water is gone from the spent fuel pool at reactor four of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing “extremely high” radiation levels.

There have also been the first reports of radioactive iodine and caesium traces in drinking water supplies in Fukushima.

LATEST 16/3 15:30: The EU's energy chief Guenther Oettinger has said that in the coming hours "there could be further catastrophic events, which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island". He told the European Parliament the Fukushima nuclear site was "effectively out of control". "The cooling systems did not work, and as a result we are somewhere between a disaster and a major disaster." The French Government was one of several to advise their citizens to leave Tokyo as soon as possible.

Oettinger's office later isued a 'clarification' saying that 'he just wanted to share his concern' because his comments caused panic in the financial markets. 

Profits before safety once again.


News overnight from Japan must surely now shake even the firmest 'accident-deniers' from the nuclear industry into recognising that Fukushima is now the world's second worst nuclear disaster - with long-term consequences.

It seems that last night's blast at reactor no.2 was NOT another hydrogen explosion but a possible breach of the suppression chamber wall INSIDE the containment vessel. This is potentially a far more serious situation. Pressure has reportedly dropped in the suppression chamber - suggesting a crack in the containment vessel. If so, highly radioactive materials (in air or possibly in liquid) will be able to leak out.

Radioactivity levels have now risen significantly - numbers are no longer in MICROsieverts but in MILLIsieverts - a thousand times greater. Recommended maximum annual doses are around 10mSv a year - measurements of 400mSv per hour have been reported near the reactors.

Some operators have been evacuated, others are bravely staying on site to try and maintain water injection. However, there are too many different emergencies for the staff to deal with at once with the limited resources that they have at their disposal.

As a consequence, temperatures in the spent fuel pools have also risen as cooling has not been in place. A further hydrogen-ignited fire therefore broke out in the pool belonging to Reactor 4. Although this reactor is shutdown, the used rods can still generate sufficient heat to cause such an incident if cooling is ceased. These pools are outside the core containment and so radioactive material released by the fire will have risen into the atmosphere.

The previous hydrogen blast at Reactor 3 has left its spent pool uncovered. A fire here could release toxic plutonium into the environment if MOX fuel rods are involved.

So much for a localised 'Level 4' incident. The situation is dire.

For a socialist perspective from the region, read http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4929 'Earthquake could leave “tens of thousands” dead and nuclear threat'
and http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4931 'Disaster hits workers hardest' 

UPDATE: While news reports state that 'radiation levels are falling', the readings are still in millisieverts rather than at the lower microsievert levels previously being recorded. Kyodo News reports the following grim overview:
-- Reactor No. 1 - Cooling failure, partial melting of core, vapor vented, hydrogen explosion, seawater pumped in.
-- Reactor No. 2 - Cooling failure, seawater pumped in, fuel rods fully exposed temporarily, vapor vented, damage to containment system, potential meltdown feared.
-- Reactor No. 3 - Cooling failure, partial melting of core feared, vapor vented, seawater pumped in, hydrogen explosion, high-level radiation measured nearby.
-- Reactor No. 4 - Under maintenance when quake struck, fire caused possibly by hydrogen explosion at pool holding spent fuel rods, pool water level feared receding.

FURTHER UPDATE 22.45: A second (or continuing?) fire broke out at reactor No.4 - presumably again from the spent fuel pool. Unlike reactors 5 and 6, where some rods are still stored more safely in the reactor vessel, reports say that ALL of the rods from reactor 4 had been placed in the spent fuel pool - this unfortunately increases the amount of radioactive material that could be released as a result of the fire.

Chernobyl veteran Iouli Andreev has suggested that the storage of so many rods so close to the reactor pointed to the Japanese nuclear industry putting profits before saefty. He also accused the IAEA's emergency team as being "a fake organisation because every organisation which depends on the nuclear industry - and the IAEA depends on the nuclear industry - cannot perform properly. It always will try to hide the reality". http://bit.ly/h7uZ71

UPDATE: 16/3 07:00: After latest fire, radiation levels spiked above 1,000 millisieverts - i.e not micro Sv or milli Sv but 1 Sv. Workers (now facing very serious health risks) also investigating cause of smoke seen above Reactor No.3.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Looks like the French government are openly questioning Japanese assurances that they have the situation under control:

10.47am: 10.46am (7.46pm JST): France has urged its nationals in Tokyo to leave the country, or at least head towards southern Japan.

This is a significant development: the first time a nation has explicitly said it does not believe Japanese reassurances about the safety of the Fukushima plant, about 150 miles from the capital. The comments by French ministers are very strong.

The industry minister, Eric Besson, told BFM television:

Let's not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it's not what they are saying.

The environment minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said the latest news about the nuclear situation "does not lead to optimism":

We recommend that all French citizens who do not have a good reason to stay in Tokyo either take a plane or, if they absolutely insist on staying, head south