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article imageReports: Japan’s radiation problem appears out of control

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 16, 2011 in Environment
Tokyo - Latest reports from Japan reveal a country drowning in sorrow from last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and it will now have to give undivided attention to a disaster of surging radiation levels at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear facility.
Scientists are warning that the fires associated with explosions at the Daiichi nuclear plant, where fuel storage pools have overheated, may be letting off radioactive steam.
David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “If the spent fuel pool is on fire, the chances of radioactivity getting to the public are very much higher,” the Guardian reports.
Lochbaum said a shutdown last year at the No. 4 reactor led to the emptying of its reactor core into the spent fuel pool. “There is much more material there because there is at least one reactor core plus what there was to start with, and it is in a building that has a big hole in the side of it.”
According to Reuters, there are no longer flames at the No. 4 reactor which exploded on Tuesday. Workers have been attempting to clear debris for road construction so fire trucks can access the Daiichi complex.
But news about a crack appearing at another reactor unit sparked more concerns about the plant. The New York Times reports the damage at the No.3 reactor "worsened the already perilous conditions at the plant, a day after officials said the containment vessel in the No. 2 reactor had also cracked."
The Japanese government still insists the radiation levels discharging from the Fukushima site are low. “People would not be in immediate danger if they went outside with these levels. I want people to understand this,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said in a televised news conference, Reuters reports.
Latest reports from TEPCO call the brewing nightmare a “specific incident,” defining it as an
Extraordinary increase of radiation dose at site boundary.
TEPCO also reports there are no longer signs of fire at the No. 4 reactor
The Japanese government has instructed evacuations for those within a 20km radius of the site, and all citizens within a 30km radius of the site should remain indoors. That area involves some 140,000 people.
High radiation levels at the site prevented a helicopter from a planned operation of dropping water on No. 3 reactor’s fuel rods, in an attempt to cool them.
The No. 3 reactor is now the priority, as Reuters reports it is the only reactor at Daiichi using plutonium in its fuel mix. Plutonium is highly toxic to humans, lingering for years in bone marrow and liver, leading to cancer.
High winds have also hindered attempts at using helicopters for dropping water and boric acid at the No. 4 reactor in an effort at slowing the nuclear reaction, even as Edano indicated doubts of that plan.
“It's not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,” Edano said, the Guardian reports.
“We are actually supplying water from the ground, but supplying water from above involves pumping lots of water and that involves risk. We also have to consider the safety of the helicopters above,” Edano added.
A U.S. Air Force search and rescue team spots a boat tossed on its side amid residential buildings a...
A U.S. Air Force search and rescue team spots a boat tossed on its side amid residential buildings and other debris in Japan
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina R. Menchaca
Emperor Akihito made his first public comments since last Friday’s Tohoku-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake.
“I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is unpredictable,” he said on live television. “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse,” according to the Guardian.
Winds at the Daiichi plant on Wednesday were blowing offshore, pushing any contamination over the Pacific Ocean.
Many flights to Tokyo have been halted or rerouted over fear of increased radiation levels. On Wednesday, Australia and France have urged their nationals to depart the country.
Adding to the devastating plight of Japan’s citizens, a cold front moved through the region, dumping snow in some of the heaviest-hit areas of the earthquake and tsunami.
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