News / Asia

US Nuclear Experts Worry About Possible Japan Reactor Meltdown

Fukushima Daiichi power plant's Unit 1 is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011
Fukushima Daiichi power plant's Unit 1 is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011
TEXT SIZE - +
Mike O'Sullivan

Tens of thousands of residents near a nuclear plant in Japan were evacuated Saturday after an explosion at the plant, 240 kilometers north of Tokyo.  The reactor failure follows a devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on Friday.

Japanese officials have reassured the public, saying there is no danger of a meltdown of the reactor core. But US nuclear experts say they are worried about the possibility.

The failure at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture was caused by a power loss, and then a loss of backup power, following the massive earthquake and tsunami Friday.

A Japanese official said a buildup of hydrogen in the reactor's cooling system caused the explosion, but he said the containment structure was intact.  Radiation was released, but government officials say the levels were low and are dropping.

Watch the explosion at reactor number one in Fukushima

Saturday, residents within 20 kilometers of the plant were evacuated, while government officials said there is no danger of a melt-down and large-scale radiation release, like the one at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 that sent radioactive clouds billowing across Europe.

The four American experts and a colleague in Japan briefed reporters by telephone Saturday, and they said  they were less certain.  

Nuclear energy analyst Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies says there are many things we do not know about the failure, including whether the containment structure is fully intact. "The information that has been made public, particularly by the Japanese nuclear safety authorities, certainly indicate that radioactive elements from the fuel itself have escaped and entered the environment.  And even if the reactor maintains its integrity, there's a possibility that things like open relief valves on the top of the reactor and things like that may still release large amounts of radioactivity," he said.

Ken Bergeron, a physicist who formerly worked for Sandia National Laboratories, says a so-called station blackout - which involves the loss of both off-site electricity and on-site backup power from diesel generators - is viewed in the nuclear industry as extremely unlikely.  But he says it happened.

"So we're in uncharted territory.  We're in the land where probability says we shouldn't be.  And we're hoping that all of the barriers to release of radioactivity will not fail," he said.

He said the first barrier, the so-called fuel cladding that covers the reactor rods, has apparently failed, which he says is shown by the release of radiation into the atmosphere.  

Crews are pumping a mixture of seawater and boron to cool the reactor, and these experts say it is essential to keep the water flowing for several days.  Analyst Alvarez called the use of seawater a "Hail Mary pass", a term from American football meaning an act of desperation.  But he said that with enough water pumped at sufficient volume and rate, the reactor can be stabilized.

Ken Bergeron said it is also crucial to restore electric power in order to pump enough water.

Ira Helfand of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility says the reactor contains huge levels of  radioactivity that cannot be allowed to escape. "The bottom line is that we just don't know what's going to happen over the next couple of days. And frankly, neither do the people who are operating these power plants.  They're very complex systems that are clearly way out of whack, and whether they're going to be able to contain the radiation inside the reactors or not, is simply not known at this point," he said.

Japanese health officials have announced they will distribute iodine tablets as a precaution.  Iodine is know to protect against radiation-induced thyroid cancer.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid