Japanese nuclear official says little of health risks from plant damage

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 10:20 a.m. CDT; updated 9:16 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 17, 2011

TOKYO — Conditions at a crippled nuclear power plant deteriorated further Tuesday, with a Japanese nuclear safety official saying that the water inside the waste fuel storage pool for a damaged reactor may be boiling.

Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters that "we cannot deny the possibility of water boiling" in the spent fuel storage pool at the facility.

If the water boils, it could evaporate, exposing the rods. The fuel rods are encased in safety containers meant to prevent them from resuming nuclear reactions, nuclear officials said, downplaying the risk of that happening.

But they acknowledged that there could have been damage to the containers. They also confirmed the walls of the storage pool building were damaged.

A fire, explosions and other damage to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant following a massive earthquake and tsunami on Friday have triggered Japan's worst nuclear crisis since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Nishiyama, an official in the economy ministry, which oversees nuclear safety, avoided commenting on the potential risks from rising temperatures caused by a failure in the systems that keep the spent fuel rods cool. He said the plant's operator is considering what to do about the problem.

The Unit 4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caught fire earlier Tuesday and is believed to have caused a release of dangerous levels of radioactivity in the immediate area. Elevated radioactivity readings in surrounding regions were not high enough to pose a health threat, the government said.

Unit 4 was not operating at the time of the tsunami, but its backup power systems failed afterward, preventing cooling systems from working properly. Three reactors already have been wrecked by explosions and nuclear officials confirmed that temperatures in two other reactors that had been shut down for inspections were also rising.

The temperature of the water in the spent fuel storage pool for Unit 4 was 183 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, when it was last measured. No measurements have been available since then, Nishiyama said.

"We have no information about whether the spent fuel rods are exposed," he said.


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Paul Allaire March 15, 2011 | 1:01 p.m.

I suspect we will have "little information" about any of this for an extended period of time.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 15, 2011 | 2:17 p.m.

But then I thought about that for a while. There has been some issuing of reports of the levels of radiation in various places and the statement that the levels in Tokyo were "safe". After my thoughts it became apparent that if anybody actually knew anything about how much radiation is "safe" it would have to be someone working for the Japanese government. Lots of experience.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 15, 2011 | 2:30 p.m.

And here is the ad from today's paper. Timely? Think about it.

It's another thing that goes over the resounding will of the voters who obviously didn't know enough.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 15, 2011 | 2:31 p.m.

And I'm wondering if the ad was part of the $2.00...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 15, 2011 | 3:57 p.m.

Fortunately, few American nuclear power reactors are located where tsunamis could be a problem. Some are located in earthquake zones.

More information, including interviews with officials, is coming out of Japan daily on the mHz television network, and it's either in English or with English subtitles.

One cause of the problems is that the emergency electric generators were destroyed by tsunamis. Without power to recirculating pumps* and control instruments, bad things were bound to occur.

If the backup generators had been located at a higher elevation this problem might have been avoided. Running cable from that location to the plant would be technically feasible.

*- Failure of a pump was what started the Three Mile Island fiasco.

(Report Comment)

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