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article imageFukushima No. 4 reactor’s coolant may be boiling, evaporating

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 15, 2011 in Environment
Tokyo - Fukushima’s imperiled nuclear plant is now facing another crisis, with authorities there stating a fourth reactor’s nuclear waste is overheating, which could lead to more spent fuel becoming unstable, compounding an already dire situation.
After explosions at the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors at Fukushima’s Dai Ichi nuclear facility in Japan destroyed containment buildings, latest reports reveal the growing crisis now includes an unstable situation at its No. 4 reactor.
A fire has erupted at the No. 4 reactor and Japanese officials now say water used inside a waste storage pool may be boiling, an “ominous sign” that high-level radioactive materials could be released from the spent fuel, according to Kyodo News.
The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN)has upgraded the severity of the situation to a level six, out of a possible seven, on the international scale.
At a news conference in Paris, Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the ASN, said: “We are now in a situation that is different from yesterday’s. It is very clear that we are at a level six, which is an intermediate level between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl,” according to CTV Canada.
Japanese officials had given the catastrophe a level four rating, but the explosions at the facility since last Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami have made the crisis a worsening situation. “We are clearly in a catastrophe,” Lacoste said.
An explosion early on Tuesday left two gaping holes, measuring 24‘x24’, in the walls of a building housing the reactor. It is through these holes that facility officials are attempting to pump water to cool the spent fuel rods.
The latest press release from TEPCO states the same status for all four reactors:

• Reactor cold shutdown, stable water level, offsite power is available.
• No refrigerant is leaked in the reactor contaminant vessel.
• Maintain average water temperature ato 100ºC in the pressure restraint.
However, Kyodo News states that TEPCO workers were unable to keep working in the main control room at No. 1 due to high levels of radiation and are monitoring the situation from a remote location.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan is urging nearby residents to remain indoors. Radiation levels equal to 400 times the annual amount that people may be safely exposed to were detected at Fukushima’s No. 3 reactor.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, in an attempt at reassuring the public, told a press conference: “We believe very high-level radioactive substances have not been emitted continuously from the No. 4 reactor,” Kyodo News reports.
Edano added that water temperatures at the No.5 and No. 6 reactors have also been rising.
High radiation levels detected after two explosions at the No. 2 and No. 4 reactors “would certainly have negative effects on the human body,” according to Kyodo News.
Kyodo News also reports Prime Minister Kan has urged everyone to “act calmly.”
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