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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
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.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid