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Fourth blast hits Japan nuclear plant - media

Published time: March 14, 2011 09:07
Edited time: March 16, 2011 16:07

A fourth explosion has rocked the Fukushima nuclear plant on Tuesday at Unit 4 at the facility, the Japanese Kyodo news agency reports. The agency also reported high levels of radiation at Unit 3, which was hit by a blast on Monday.

A fourth explosion has rocked the Fukushima nuclear plant on Tuesday at Unit 4 at the facility, the Japanese Kyodo news agency reports. The agency also reported high levels of radiation at Unit 3, which was hit by a blast on Monday.

In his televised address on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that radiation had spread from the three damaged reactors in the plant. He has asked people living within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima complex to stay indoors to avoid potential health risks from radiation.

"We are making every effort possible so that no further explosion, or no further leakage of radioactive material, would happen," the Japanese prime minister told journalists at a news conference. "The people at the power plant are carrying out an operation to inject water to cool the reactors, despite their putting themselves in a very dangerous situation. So in that sense, we hope that we can avoid further radiation leakage." 

The latest explosion followed another blast, the third in four days, which hit the facility’s Unit 2 just hours earlier. According to Japan’s nuclear safety agency, the third blast was heard at Fukushima plant at 21:10 GMT, AP reported. The country’s nuclear safety agency has announced that it suspects the explosion may have damaged the reactor’s container. AP has quoted an agency spokesperson, Shinji Kinjo, as saying that "a leak of nuclear material is feared.'"

Authorities are evacuating staff from the plant, though a team of 50 workers are reportedly staying behind to continue cooling the reactors at the facility.

The operator of Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant reported earlier that the cooling system of Unit 2 was fully down, which could lead to overheating of the unit and an explosion similar to those that occurred on Friday and Monday.

As the level of cooling liquid continued to lower at the Unit 2 of the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, the reactor’s fuel rods became partially exposed and therefore even less cooled, informed Kyodo news network. The spokesman for the Fukushima government, Masato Abe, stated that Unit 2's fuel rods “were briefly exposed.”

Takako Kitajima, the official of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. informed that the power plant’s staff was injecting seawater into Unit 2 to cool it down. The same had been done to the other two units, but it had not prevent the explosions.

The second blast occurred at Unit 3 of the Fukushima nuclear plant on Monday. Reports described a massive column of smoke being seen coming out of the unit. Eleven people were reportedly injured. The explosion happened due to a build-up of hydrogen in the fuel rods. According to the government, the actual vessel that is holding the radioactive materials is still intact.

The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., announced on Monday that the radiation level in the area surrounding the plant remained within safe levels. The company said that the radiation level was within 10.65 microsieverts, far less than the 500 microsieverts when a nuclear power plant operator must file a report to the government, according to Japanese law.

However, the radiation is leaking out from the resorts of the first explosion, which happened on Saturday at Unit 1 of Fukushima Dai-Ichi.

160 people have already been exposed to radiation in the vicinity of the plant. The radiation has also reached a US aircraft carrier anchored 160 kilometers away from the Japanese coastline in the Pacific Ocean, according to reports from the New York Times.

After the first blast, over 200,000 people were evacuated from the area, 600 remaining.  Up to 160,000 may have been exposed to radiation.

The information coming from Japan concerning the situation on its earthquake-damaged nuclear stations is extremely insufficient and irregular, claims the Russian Rosatom nuclear corporation’s group, which is monitoring the situation with nuclear power plants in Japan. The same applies to the information coming from IAEA.

­There has never been a case where the information about nuclear plant breakdown has been accurate, believes Dr. Robert Jacobs from the Hiroshima Peace Institute.

The government always tries to manipulate public opinion, trying to present the situation as being fully under control, but usually a more correct perception of the situation will be available in some time, Jacobs says.

It is true that the damaged plant was tested to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude up to 7.9, much lower than the 9.0 one that occurred and the situation is altogether too extreme, considering the tsunami and numerous aftershocks, “but it should the job of the government and the plant operators to anticipate what would happen if something beyond the designed plans occur.”

Philip White of the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center told RT that at this point it is difficult to estimate the scale of the damage the blast may have caused.

“We understand that the blast has not breached the containment of the reactor, which is very fortunate. That is the current situation, as reported by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company,” he said. “You cannot rule out, at this stage, a full-scale, worst-case scenario and, of course, there are several other nuclear plants in danger as well.”

The first hydrogen explosion, which occurred at Unit 1 of the Fukushima plant on Saturday, injured four people and caused a mass evacuation from the area adjacent to the plant. Following the blast, authorities evacuated 300,000 people living within 30 kilometers of the facility. At least 22 people were affected by increased radiation levels.

Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yukio Edano, did warn Sunday that the reactor at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility could begin a meltdown and an explosion might follow. Reports state the reactor’s fuel rods have been exposed to air and were damaged.

Government spokesmen have said that the facility could withstand the second blast, just as the first reactor did on Saturday.

Further concerns were raised after the level of radiation in the nearby Miyagi prefecture increased 400-fold. It is not clear at the moment if the radiation came from the local nuclear plant, which was reported to be functioning properly, or drifted up from the Daiichi facility at Fukushima following Saturday's explosion.

I would hazard the guess that [the radiation] is coming from Fukushima Daiichi No 1 [reactor],” suggested Christopher Simons, professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo. “The good news is that a lot of the steam, which escaped in the explosion from Daiichi reactor No. 1 building yesterday, is relatively light isotopes – that is isotopes such as nitrogen-16. These isotopes have very short half-lives and cannot cause long-term damage to human health.”

­

The government has also assured that the radioactivity released so far does not pose a threat to human health. However, the number of people admitted to hospitals in the area surrounding Fukushima are said to be suffering exposure to radiation.

Meanwhile, in the Miyagi province alone, authorities placed the death toll estimate from the earthquake-triggered tsunami at more than 10,000. The confirmed death toll exceeds 1,800.

­Harvey Wasserman, who has written on the subject of a sustainable, green-powered Earth, believes that a country with such a frequency of earthquakes and tsunamis as Japan should never have built nuclear plants.

This is an endemic problem. We knew it was happening all along. There were many people in Japan that argued against these reactors being built, and now we’re seeing the consequences,” said Wasserman.

­Shaun Burnie, an independent nuclear energy consultant from Scotland, says he would extend those accusations to the world-wide nuclear industry that is trying to conceal and diminish information about the Japanese nuclear crisis.

In the last few days we’ve seen representatives from the industry, some of them acting as so-called independent experts from the institutes that are funded by the nuke industry, saying that ‘the situation is under control, this was meant to happen, it’s very reassuring, we need more nuclear power’. Nuclear power is inherently unsafe. Earthquakes are one hazard, but there are many more,” Burnie told RT.

­With all that, Shaun Burnie believes that “the situation in Japan is absolutely critical.”

“The state of the fuel at the reactor Number 3 that exploded last night, we know that for many hours half of the core was exposed. That is one of the nuclear industry’s worst nightmares,” he explained.

“The question is at what point will [the pressure vessel in Unit 2] not be able to retain the pressure and there will possibly be a third explosion?” Burnie questioned.

­Malcolm Grimston, energy expert at London-based think-tank Chatham House, believes there is no danger of massive radiation emission and claims the decision of the Japanese officials to flood the damaged reactors with sea water was quite a sensible one.

So far, the [nuclear] fuel is still largely in the form that it was during normal operation and it is all contained within the extremely thick steel pressure vessel of its cold that so far is doing its job. Even if this pressure vessel were to be broken and to be breached -and it’s very difficult to imagine that this would happen, – they flooded the first reactor and now the third reactor with sea water which would absorb most of the heat. There would be local emission of radioactive material,” explained Grimston.

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