News / Asia

Possible Nuclear Fission at Crippled Japanese Power Plant

There are signs of fresh trouble at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

Concern that nuclear fission may be occurring has prompted Tokyo Electric Power Company to spray boric acid into one of the reactor buildings at the Fukushima-1 power plant.

The utility confirms a "very small amount" of radioactive xenon gas has been detected at the number two reactor - one of three crippled after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the facility on March 11.

Both Xenon 133 and 135, which have been detected, are by-products of nuclear fission. The substances themselves are not considered a health risk.

Professor Andrew Stuchberry heads the nuclear physics department at Australian National University.

"The most likely source of them [radioactive xenon gas emissions] is from some nuclear fission taking place. The fact their response is to add boric acid, which eats neutrons, that should stop the fission process," he said.

Stuchberry characterizes this development as "a little bit of a surprise" but says there is no reason for the public, so far, to be overly concerned.

"If there's a little bit of fission taking place in the core I would think it would be relatively limited. There's certainly no chance that anything is going to explode. I don't think there'll be large amounts of heat generated that would affect safety," he said.  "I would hope that there wouldn't be any additional radiation release associated with this. With the little information we have at the moment and the action being taken I wouldn't get too alarmed."

TEPCO officials say this latest incident should not delay their goal of bringing all the plant's reactors to a state of cold shutdown by the end of this year.

The plant has been leaking radiation since its cooling system was knocked out by the mega-quake and tsunami nearly eight months ago. That triggered apparent core meltdowns in three of the six reactors. Towns and villages in a 20-kilometer radius of the plant were evacuated. Elevated radiation levels have been detected in food, water and soil as far away as Tokyo.

A French nuclear safety institute says the Fukushima disaster has generated the largest-ever discharge of radioactive materials into the ocean. The incident is the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.

A Japanese government panel says it will take at least 30 years to safely decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Steve Herman

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

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

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.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs