News / Asia

Japan's Nuclear Crisis Deepens With Fire, Radiation Leaks

Medical staff screen people who are concerned over radiation exposure in Niigata, northern Japan March 16, 2011.
Medical staff screen people who are concerned over radiation exposure in Niigata, northern Japan March 16, 2011.

The crisis at Japan's earthquake-stricken nuclear plant is deepening, with radiation emissions rising Wednesday to levels that forced authorities to temporarily evacuate the last technicians from the facility.

National television showed pictures of helicopters being prepared to drop water onto the Fukushima power plant's damaged number 3 reactor, in a desperate attempt to lower temperatures and prevent the nuclear fuel rods inside from melting down.

But NHK Television said the military aborted the plan after another helicopter flew over the plant to monitor radiation readings. Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said new preparations were under way late Wednesday to begin injecting water into the crippled reactor from the ground.

New fire erupts

Japanese awoke Wednesday to televised photos of a new fire at Fukushima's number 4 reactor, where a two-hour blaze on Tuesday released a plume of radiation that was detected as far away as Tokyo, 240 kilometers to the south. The new fire died down after a half-hour, and was soon replaced by clouds of white smoke pouring out of the number 3 unit.

At a press conference in Tokyo, Edano said the smoke was probably steam escaping from a rupture in the containment chamber housing the unit's nuclear core. Officials announced a similar rupture in the chamber of the number 2 unit a day earlier.

Danger forces evacuation

Edano said the skeleton crew of about 50 workers still struggling to pump seawater onto the fuel rods at all six of the plant's reactors had been removed from the plant for their safety, but that radiation levels appeared to be dropping by midday. He said later that monitoring showed radiation levels within 30 kilometers of the plant were not so high as to pose a threat to human health.

Even when they are not in use, the nuclear fuel rods remain very hot for weeks or months. Unless they are kept cool with a steady supply of water, their outer casings can melt away releasing radiation into the air.

At units 1, 2 and 3, the rods are inside thick concrete containment chambers designed to hold in any radiation, even if the rods melt down. But officials say the chambers surrounding units 2 and 3 have now been cracked, allowing radiation to escape.

Explosions have destroyed the outer buildings at all three of the units, caused when technicians vented steam from the containment chambers to ease a dangerous buildup of pressure. Seventy percent of the fuel rods at the number 1 reactor and 33 percent at the number 2 reactor are believed to have already been damaged or melted.

At units 4, 5 and 6, the rods were removed for maintenance before last week's earthquake and placed in cooling ponds outside the containment chambers. With the plant's pumping systems damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, those rods are also in danger of becoming exposed.

Worry spreads across Japan

The drama has caused alarm across a country already traumatized by the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

The governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, said at a news conference that panic caused by inaccurate reporting of the nuclear crisis is preventing relief supplies from reaching the evacuees and victims of the earthquake. He urged nuclear power company officials to give out more accurate information and appealed to all Japanese to extend help to those who have been evacuated.

In Tokyo, residents have been buying up facemasks and protective gear while some foreign governments have warned their nationals to leave the capital.

Edano said Japan is preparing to ask the United States for technical assistance and may reach out to other countries. The International Atomic Energy Agency is also preparing to dispatch a team of experts.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid