Entries in Nuclear Meltdown (6)


One Month Later: Japan Remembers Quake, Tsunami Victims

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- People across Japan fell silent Monday afternoon as they reflected on the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit their country exactly one month ago, leaving thousands dead and lingering fears of a nuclear meltdown.

At 2:46 p.m., sirens sounded to mark the exact time the 9.0 magnitude quake struck the country on March 11, spawning a massive tsunami afterwards that has left up to 25,000 people dead and thousands more displaced from their homes.

Dozens of aftershocks have since rocked Japan, with the latest one striking Monday, a 7.1 magnitude tremor that prompted yet another tsunami warning.

The initial quake crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leaving it on the verge of a nuclear meltdown as plant operators work around the clock to cool the damaged reactors and prevent more radiation from seeping into the environment.  Radiation has already been detected in the water and soil in and around the damaged plant, as well as in tap water, milk and various vegetables.

The natural disasters have also taken a toll on Japan's economy and the auto industry.

Leading Japanese automakers, like Toyota and Honda, had been forced to shut down all vehicle production in the country following the March 11 earthquake.  The halt in production compromised the availability of parts and automobiles worldwide and had an adverse effect on stock markets.

But the Japanese auto industry appears to be bouncing back.  Toyota announced last week that it would resume vehicle production at all of its Japanese plants on April 18, while Honda said it would reopen two auto assembly plants in Japan Monday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Nuclear Crisis: New Volunteers Join Battle Against Reactor

ABC News(OSAKA, Japan) -- More smoke billowed from three crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant Friday as Japanese military and emergency crews desperately tried to prevent a nuclear meltdown, and new volunteers pledged to join the battle.

Out of six reactor units on Fukushima Daiichi plant, four have caught fire, exploded or suffered partial meltdowns in the past week.  Water levels in the pools where used fuel rods are stored are believed to be dangerously low.

"We see it as an extremely serious accident," said Yukiya Amano, the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.

A week after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed 6,539 and left 10,354 still missing, Japan continues to battle against a possible nuclear catastrophe.

The problems at Fukushima Daiichi have left observers concerned containment vessels may be damaged and leaking, perhaps allowing water used to cool nuclear fuel to leak out and exposing nuclear fuel rods.  Such exposure to air can cause the fuel to melt and spew massive amounts of radiation.

Efforts are under way to reconnect electricity to cooling systems and to spray more water from the ground.  Seven water-spraying trucks targeted the plant's unit 3 reactor on Friday, entering one at a time to fire their water cannons.

U.S. officials doubt the pumps would be functional even if energy was restored, so the United States has contributed high pressure pumps in hopes they could provide an alternate option.  After brief training on how to use the American pumps, Japanese personnel at the site seemed ready to make an attempt.

Nearly 140 additional Japanese specialist firefighters volunteered in Tokyo to help the mission on Friday.  Each team member got a personal farewell from Tokyo Fire Department Chief Yuji Arai.

"We expect a lot of difficulties with the mission we have been given," he said.  "I think it is really a dangerous assignment. ...The reputation of Japan and the lives of many people rest on your actions."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Officials Alarmed by Japanese Handling of Nuclear Crisis

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. officials are alarmed at how the Japanese are handling the escalating nuclear reactor crisis and fear that if they do not get control of the plants within the next 24 to 48 hours they could have a situation that will be "deadly for decades."

"It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now," one U.S. official told ABC News.

The Japanese have evacuated most of the reactor personnel from the Fukushima nuclear complex and are rotating teams of 50 workers through the facility in an attempt to cool it down.

"We are all-out urging the Japanese to get more people back in there to do emergency operations there, that the next 24 to 48 hours are critical," the official said.  "Urgent efforts are needed on the part of the Japanese to restore emergency operations to cool" down the reactors' rods before they trigger a meltdown.

"They need to stop pulling out people -- and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it.  There is a recognition this is a suicide mission," the official said.

The official said the United States is in very deep consultations with the Japanese and that the only thing that has been favorable is the wind pattern that is blowing the contaminated material out to sea instead of south towards Tokyo and other populated areas, but that can't be counted upon.

The U.S. official says experts believe there is a rupture in two or maybe three of the six reactors at the Fukushima power plant, but as worrisome is the fact that spent fuel rods are now exposed to the air, which means that substances like cesium, which have a long half-life, could become airborne.

"That could be deadly for decades," the official said.

There is also a growing concern around the world that a catastrophic nuclear disaster is in the works.

"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen," European Union's energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said Wednesday, according to various reports.  "Practically everything is out of control.  I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come."

The United States has instituted a 50-mile evacuation zone for U.S. forces and American citizens from the Fukushima power plant, four times the size of Japan's 12-mile evacuation zone.  The only exceptions that are made are for relief missions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Military Helicopters Begin Water Drops over Japan's Nuclear Plant

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese military helicopters began dropping water over Japan's damaged nuclear plant Thursday in an effort to prevent overheating, which could lead to a meltdown and the release of more radioactive material.

But U.S. government officials are still concerned that the water necessary to keeps its nuclear fuel rods from overheating may not be there at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

America's top nuclear official told Congress Wednesday that the pool that cools spent fuel rods at the crippled Japanese nuclear complex had lost most or all of its water, a potentially catastrophic situation.

The Japanese quickly challenged that statement but gave few details, saying only that the situation at the holding pool was "stable."

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said that the fuel pool at unit 4 at the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had lost massive amounts of water.

"We believe at this point that unit 4 may have lost a significant inventory, if not lost all of its water," Jaczko told a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  "What we know at unit three, and again our information is limited, what we believe is that there is a crack in the spent fuel pool for unit three as well, which could lead to a loss of water in that pool."

The spent fuel rods are kept in pools of water to prevent them from overheating 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.

Japan's nuclear safety agency and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the complex, deny water is gone from the pool.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nuclear Emergency: Japanese Officials Fear Catastrophic Disaster

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radiation is leaking from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and Japanese officials say that the containment vessel of one reactor may have been damaged, raising worries of a catastrophic nuclear disaster.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said.

Kan urged those living 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay inside. The 140,000 people living within 12 miles of the plant have been evacuated. So far, 150 people from that area have tested positive for exposure to radiation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour had been reported at the Fukushima power plant site immediately following an explosion and fire at the plant Tuesday. That's four times higher than the acceptable level of radiation for humans.

The radiation levels have since dropped, but experts are still concerned.

Just 50 of the plant's 800 workers remain at the plant, fighting to keep the four reactors cool by pumping sea water into the reactors. Officials ordered most of the workers to leave the plant after the initially high levels of radiation were reported.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Possible Meltdown' at Japan Nuke Plant

Photo by DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- It is "highly possible" that a partial meltdown was occurring in one of the nuclear reactors damaged in Friday's powerful earthquake, a Japanese government spokesman said Sunday, the most dire statement yet of the situation at the power plant.

Measures were taken at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, including releasing radioactive air and injecting sea water to reduce pressure and cool the reactor down, to prevent a possible meltdown, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. But he also said it is "highly possible" there has been a partial meltdown in the unit.

The government had earlier denied that there was any possible meltdown.

In all, cooling systems have failed at six of the reactors at two Fukushima nuclear plants, including the reactor that exploded, where observers and experts have also feared a meltdown could occur.

The extent of the damage at the reactors and the cause of the explosion, which led Japanese officials to order tens of thousands to evacuate the region around the plant, are not clear.

According to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency -- an independent body -- the only thing that could have caused the explosion was a meltdown of the reactor core.

Along with the uncertainty about the nuclear facilities, Japan continues to be shaken by aftershocks from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Friday.

The official death toll from Friday's earthquake and tsunami rose to 763, while local media reports put fatality totals closer to 1,300 people. With thousands unaccounted for in the hardest hit areas, that number is expected to rise.

Speaking at a news conference Sunday, Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he was confident that the country would get through the crisis "united," but acknowledged the scale of the disaster.

“In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest, the most difficult crisis for Japan.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio