Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear crisis worsens, Tokyo evacuations begin, 50 workers stay behind at their own risk (updates)

Radiation Levels Detected on Passengers from Japan in Taiwan and S. Korea 
About 25 passengers arriving in Taiwan from Japan were observed with levels of slightly higher exposure to radiation, a government official said on Thursday.
Authorities in South Korea had earlier reported unusually high radiation levels on three passengers arriving from Japan.
High Radiation levels detected 30 km NW of Fukushima
Japan's science ministry says radiation levels of up to 0.17 millisieverts per hour have been detected about 30 kilometers northwest of the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Experts say exposure to those levels for 6 hours would result in absorption of the maximum level considered safe for 1 year. 
Radiation levels at spent fuel rod pool now now fatal (from Bloomberg Q&A on Fukushima vs. Chernobyl)
Fuel rods at the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, both of which were operating at the time of the temblor, may have been damaged, Tokyo Electric said. Pressure in the containment chamber of unit No. 2 fell yesterday, indicating that radiation may have been released after an explosion on March 15.

Radiation is also leaking from spent fuel rods stored in a pool near reactors No. 3 and No. 4. Water in the pool has evaporated due to radioactive heat, exposing the uranium- containing rods to the atmosphere. The exposed rods can emit radiation and give out radioactive iodine and cesium, both of which are cancer-causing agents.

A worker at the edge of the pool would receive a fatal radiation dose in 16 seconds, said David Lochbaum, a nuclear physicist for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety instructor.
MSNBC's Today reports that reporter Lester Holt and his crew tested positive for small amounts of radiation:

A Japanese man told BBC "My children are small and have their life ahead of them and I don't want them to be contaminated by the nuclear fallout."

According to CNBC, Russia's nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko told Russia's Putin that under the worst case scenario all six reactors could melt down. He said a team of Russian experts has been working on models to predict the worst case scenario, since information from Tokyo has been patchy.

PBS: 50 workers return to Japan nuclear plant after radiation spike
He said of the workers remaining inside the plant that "individuals have to have agreed they are going to do this and know it present tremendous risk to them. They recognize risk of developing symptoms of acute radiation syndrome and long-term risk for cancer also increases." He said acute radiation syndrome affects the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system and blood forming organs. Pepper explained that while the workers are wearing suits, they are still not protected from certain types of potentially harmful radiation.
NYT: Last defense at troubled plant: 50 Japanese workers
Those remaining are being asked to make escalating -- and perhaps existential -- sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan's Health Ministry said Tuesday it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for American nuclear plant workers.
BBC: Anger over Japan nuclear exodus
  • Britain advised its nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of the capital to consider leaving the area
  • France urged its nationals in Tokyo to leave the country or move south; two Air France planes were sent to begin evacuation
  • Australia advised its citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and the most damaged prefectures
  • Turkey warned against travel to Japan

NRC: No Water in Spent Fuel Pool of Japan Plant
The chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says all the water is gone from one of the spent fuel pools at Japan's most troubled nuclear plant. This means there's nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down.
The outer shell of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area. (ABC News)
Maclean's blog explains the spent fuel pool danger:
The spent fuel pools are where fuel rods are stored after they’re removed from the reactors. As with the fuel rods in the reactor, the spent fuel needs to stay submerged in cold water or it will heat up. What’s happened is that, with nearby fires and the heat given off by the spent fuel rods, the water temperature has been rising. If the water boils off, and the rods are exposed, they could meltdown. Unlike the fuel rods in the reactors though, the spent fuel rods don’t have steel and concrete enclosures. If the heat damages the rod casings, they could catch fire and spew radiation into the atmosphere. Experts are warning that the spent fuel pools may pose the biggest radiation threat at Fukushima.
MSNBC: Slow-moving nightmare unfolds at Japan plant
The European Union's energy chief, Guenther Oettinger, told the European Parliament that the plant was "effectively out of control" after breakdowns in the facility's cooling system.

"In the coming hours there could be further catastrophic events, which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island," Oettinger said.

"There is as yet no panic, but Tokyo with 35 million people, is the largest metropolis in the world," he said.
Japan's Emperor Akihito addresses the nation in a rare appearance and says:
"No one knows how many people will die"
"I pray for the safety of as many people as possible"

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