News / Asia

Japan Admits Time Running Out to Avert Possible Nuclear Catastrophe

An aerial view of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, March 17, 2011
An aerial view of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, March 17, 2011



Japan's government is acknowledging time is running out to prevent a hazardous and significant spread of radiation into the atmosphere from the crippled Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant. Of utmost concern is one of the facility's damaged reactors (number 3) where water levels are believed to have fallen dangerously low in a pool where spent fuel rods are kept.

Air, ground assault

Japan's military and police have launched an air and ground assault to pour water on two crippled nuclear reactor buildings which are emitting radiation.

A pair of Self Defense Forces helicopters on Thursday began carrying out air drops on the nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture. Officials at the plant said late Thursday they expect the government to make further efforts to cool the reactor with both helicopter drops and spraying.

Listen to Q&A with VOA's Steve Herman on spraying operation

The infrastructure for the reactors' cooling system was effectively destroyed by last Friday's tsunami. Explosions subsequently damaged several reactor buildings.

The risky air mission, which was aborted Wednesday because radiation levels were deemed too high, involves dropping 7.5 tons of water with each run to try to cool radioactive fuel rods. But live television video of the initial four air drops showed that much of the water appeared to be dispersed by winds.

Reactor 3 critical

The third reactor is considered the most critical. It uses mixed oxide fuel containing plutonium.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who gave the go-ahead Thursday for the helicopters to carry out the mission, acknowledges time is running out.

Kitazwa says the military believes that the air drops will help cool the fuel rods. He also confirmed that water pumps, provided by the U.S. military, are on their way to commence on-site spraying of water.

Kitazwa also says Japanese special purpose fire trucks and riot police squad water cannons are to be utilized. This is being viewed as a last-ditch attempt to prevent some of the hundreds of spent fuel rods from going critical. That would lead to significant amounts of radiation spreading to a wider area.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, says it is replacing transmission lines to restore electricity to the nuclear plant as quickly as possible in order to provide an on-site source of energy to fuel a cooling system.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says every effort is being made to bring the situation under control.

Obama offers more help

The top government spokesman also says Prime Minister Naoto Kan and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke for 30 minutes about the crisis. He says Mr. Obama informed the Japanese leader the United States is prepared to send more nuclear experts here, as well as providing assistance for Japan's earthquake and tsunami reconstruction efforts.

Both governments say Tokyo and Washington will continue to closely cooperate. But there is a public split between the two governments on the severity of the crisis.

Some U.S. government officials have been saying the situation at the Fukushima facility is more severe than Japan has acknowledged.


The US State Department on Thursday announced chartered aircraft would be available in Tokyo for Americans who desire to leave the country. It is also permitting the voluntary departure of embassy staff family members from Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya.

Some European countries have also urged their citizens to depart the capital, 200 kilometers from the nuclear plant.  

The United States Embassy earlier in the day advised Americans within an 80-kilometer radius of the Fukushima nuclear facility to leave the area. Japan's evacuation zone extends only to 20 kilometers. About 200,000 people have left that zone. Those between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant have been urged by the Japanese government to stay indoors

William Ide's video report on severity of nuclear crisis

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs