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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid