TOKYO: Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency Suspects That Explosion Damaged Reactor’s Container: UPDATED

15 Mar

 

This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility in Japan on Monday, March 14, 2011. Authorities ar
 AP – This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility in …

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TOKYO – Japan’s nuclear safety agency says it suspects an explosion at a nuclear power plant may have damaged a reactor’s container and fears a radiation leak.

An agency spokesman, Shigekazu Omukai, says the nuclear core of Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was not damaged in the explosion early Tuesday.

But the agency says it suspects the bottom of the container that surrounds the generator’s nuclear core might have been damaged.

Another agency spokesman, Shinji Kinjo, says that “a leak of nuclear material is feared.”

NEWS UPDATE:

By ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Eric Talmadge And Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press :

SOMA, Japan – A third explosion in four days rocked the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan early Tuesday, the country’s nuclear safety agency said.

The blast at Dai-ichi Unit 2 followed two hydrogen explosions at the plant — the latest on Monday — as authorities struggle to prevent the catastrophic release of radiation in the area devastated by a tsunami.

The troubles at the Dai-ichi complex began when Friday’s massive quake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast knocked out power, crippling cooling systems needed to keep nuclear fuel from melting down.

The latest explosion was heard at 6:10 a.m. Tuesday (2110 GMT Monday), a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety Agency said at a news conference. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the explosion occurred near the suppression pool in the reactor’s containment vessel. The pool was later found to have a defect.

International scientists have said there are serious dangers but not at the level of the 1986 blast in Chernobyl. Japanese authorities were injecting seawater as a coolant of last resort, and advising nearby residents to stay inside to avoid contamination.

Tokyo Electric Power said some employees of the power plant were temporarily evacuated following Tuesday morning’s blast.

The accidents — injuring 15 workers and military personnel and exposing up to 190 people to elevated radiation — have compounded the immense challenges faced by the Tokyo government as it struggles to help hundreds of thousands of people affected by twin disasters that flattened entire communities and may have left more than 10,000 dead.

The crisis also has raised global concerns about the safety of such reactors at a time when they have enjoyed a resurgence as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Japanese authorities said there have been no large-scale radiation releases, but have detected temporary elevations in levels, and have evacuated tens of thousands of people from around affected reactors. Prevailing winds were pointing out to sea, and U.S. ships assisting tsunami recovery moved further way to avoid potential danger.

NEWS UPDATE:

0116 GMT: Some workers have been evacuated from the number-two reactor at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co. “We have moved our staff to a safer area,” except for those working to cool the reactor, the TEPCO spokesman said.

A man comforts a woman as she cries in front of her damaged home in the town of Watari in …More Enlarge photo

0110 GMT: The death toll from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami that flattened much of Japan’s northeast coast topped 2,400, police said Tuesday. The National Police Agency said 2,414 people are confirmed dead and 3,118 missing, with 1,885 injured in the disaster which struck on Friday afternoon. The official toll yesterday stood at 1,647.

0100 GMT: The US House of Representatives has observed a moment of silence for the people killed, missing or injured in the Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

0050 GMT: Tokyo shares fell 6.62 percent in morning trade Tuesday, a day after their lowest close in two years following Japan’s devastating natural disasters and nuclear emergency. The nikkei index plunged 636.75 points to 8,983.74.

0045 GMT: The seal around a reactor at a quake-damaged Japanese nuclear power plant does not appear to have been holed, the plant operator said Tuesday, following an explosion at the plant. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters earlier that the suppression pool of the number-two reactor at the Fukushima No.1 plant appeared to have been damaged.

0035 GMT: The Bank of Japan has pumped five trillion yen into the financial system to soothe money markets shaken by Japan’s biggest ever earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a nuclear emergency.

0020 GMT: US relief organizations have raised more than $22 million dollars in donations for relief after Japan’s disaster, with US companies also offering multimillion-dollar donations. The American Red Cross raised $19 million as of 3:00 pm (1700 GMT), with $1.6 million sent in $10 donations by Americans text-messaging the number 90999, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

0015 GMT: Higher radiation levels were recorded Tuesday in a region north of the Japanese capital Tokyo after a blast at a quake-hit nuclear power plant, Kyodo News reported. It said the increased levels were detected in Ibaraki prefecture between the capital and Fukushima, where the nuclear plant is located. There were no immediate details.

0000 GMT: A huge explosion hit another reactor at an earthquake-damaged Japanese nuclear power plant early Tuesday, the third blast since Saturday, the plant operator said. “There was a huge explosion” between 6:00 am (2100 GMT Monday) and 6:15 am at the number-two reactor of Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, a Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) spokesman said.

NEWS UPDATE:

A third explosion has been heard at a quake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant, the country’s nuclear safety agency confirmed.

New Explosion At Japanese Reactor Plant Play video

Second Explosion At Fukushima Nuclear Plant Play video

New Explosion At Japanese Reactor Plant Enlarge photo

Video: New Explosion At Japanese Reactor Plant

Video: Second Explosion At Fukushima Nuclear Plant

There was no immediate word on exact damage from the blast, which tore through the unit 2 structure at the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

Two previous explosions occurred in buildings housing unit 1 and 3 reactors following last Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

At a news conference plant operators said all non-essential workers were being evacuated from the damaged facility as others continue to struggle with faulty coolant systems in the three reactors.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company says radiation levels around the plant have risen four-fold.

There are fears the explosion may have damaged the reactor’s container which could lead to serious radiation leaks if the seal is breached.

Higher radiation levels have also been recorded in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, Kyodo News reported, but the safety agency has said the level does not pose health risks.

Japan has asked the US for help to stop the American-designed reactors plunging into uncontrollable meltdown.

The latest blast occurred after cooling water dropped repeatedly in unit 2, with the nuclear fuel rods partially exposed – risking an overheat of up to a temperature of 2,200 degrees Celsius.

Damage to the hermetically-sealed reactor container dramatically increases the risk of serious radiation leaks.

The ex-deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Sky News that the Daiichi unit 2 reactor may still deteriorate even more.

“I think the situation is still very, very grim – we are by far not over the worst,” Olli Heinonen said.

The troubles at the Daiichi plant compound the immense challenges faced by the Tokyo government as it struggles to send relief to hundreds of thousands of people along the country’s north-east coast.

It is now widely believed that at least 10,000 people died in the 9.0 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami.

A top Japanese official said the fuel rods in all three of the most troubled nuclear reactors at Daiichi appeared to be melting.

Of all these troubles, the drop in water levels – risking overheating and meltdown – at unit 2 still has officials the most worried.

“Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilised for the time being,” Ryohei Shiomi, of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said.

“Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention.”

Workers managed to raise water levels after a second drop on Monday night, but levels began falling for a third time, according to nuclear agency official Naoki Kumagai.

Specialists considered a plan to spray water directly on the overheating reactor container to cool it – and realised it was damaged.

The head of the IAEA said the Japanese government has asked the agency for help and the US confirmed experts were being sent to the plants 150 miles north of Tokyo.

A hydrogen explosion occurred in the US-designed reactor 1 building on March 12 and a second blast destroyed the building housing unit 3 on Monday.

The blasts injured 15 workers and military personnel and exposed up to 190 people to elevated radiation doses.

The blasts actually lessened pressure building inside the troubled reactors, and officials said the all-important containment shell – thick concrete armour around reactors – had not been damaged.

In addition, officials said radiation levels remained within legal limits, though anyone left within 12 miles of the scene was ordered to remain indoors.

“We have no evidence of harmful radiation exposure,” deputy Cabinet secretary Noriyuki Shikata said.

Specialists are now considering spraying water directly on the damaged container in an attempt to cool it externally.

Harvard-based Mr Heinonen said it is now important for US expertise to be employed to minimise the risk of a catastrophic failure.

“They are the best people to know their (reactors’) behaviour, particularly when you go into this phase and assess the consequences.”

The EU has also asked the IAEA to convene an extraordinary meeting of members states to discuss the nuclear alerts.

Meanwhile, France’s ASN nuclear safety authority said the nuclear accident in Japan could be classed as level 5 or 6 on the international scale of 1 to 7 – on par with the 1979 US Three Mile Island meltdown.

Last weekend Japanese officials rated the radiation risk posed by the plants at level 4.

However, US navy chiefs ordered the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group away from a downwind location after detecting radiation on 17 helicopter crew members undertaking relief operations.

The IAEA reported that 230,000 units of stable iodine has been distributed to evacuation centres near the Daiichi and Fukushima Daini power plants by officials.

Sky News’ Anna Botting, in Sendai, says the authorities are warning people not to drink tap water and to take iodine to help prevent the threat of thyroid cancer.

The IAEA said around 185,000 people have evacuated from 10 towns in the two Fukushima reactor regions, and up to 160 may have been exposed to radiation.

Four separate nuclear power stations – two in Fukushima and one each at Tokai and Onagawa – are operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) on the affected coast.

Prime minister Naoto Kan said the situation at the Fukushima plant remained “worrisome” and that the government is setting up a joint response headquarters with Tepco manage the crisis.

On Tuesday morning Mr Kan confirmed that he will personally lead operations at the headquarters to avert the stricken reactor from going into meltdown.

Some experts believe that a catastrophic failure through breaching of the reactor container can be averted.

“The longer it goes on, the better the situation,” Robin Grimes, director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London, said.

According to Dr Susan Kieffer from the Centre for Advanced Study Professor of Geology and Physics at the University of Illinois, seawater cooling is a last resort for saving reactors.

“The flooding means that they decided that the reactor cannot be salvaged for future use,” Dr Kieffer explained.

Insurance policies on Japanese nuclear plants exclude coverage for property damage or liabilities caused by earthquakes or tsunamis, Reuters said.

Credit Suisse has put an initial estimate the damage bill in the quake region at 14.5 trillion yen (£109bn), as the Bank of Japan offered to inject £52bn into the banking system.

The Japanese government is planning rolling power cuts and a limited number of trains will be running in Tokyo to help conserve energy supplies.

The IAEA has been monitoring weather forecasts with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and prevailing winds have so far pushed contamination away from the mainland.

WMO forecasts predict the offshore wind pattern to continue for at least the next three days, reducing the risk of airborne radiation contamination.

The nuclear incident in Japan has renewed concerns of atomic power, which has gained support in recent years as a future widespread replacement for fossil fuels energy.

:: Switzerland has announced a freeze on plans to build new nuclear plants, Germany has raised questions about its nuclear future, and opposition to atomic reactor construction is mounting from Turkey to South Africa.

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