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

    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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora