Japan's Nuclear Reactor - Radioactive Leaks




Crews 'facing 100-year battle' at Fukushima


ABC News: David Mark & Mark Willacy - Friday Apr 1, 2011

A nuclear expert has warned that it might be 100 years before melting fuel rods can be safely removed from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant.

The warning came as levels of radioactive iodine flushed into the sea near the plant spiked to a new high and the Wall Street Journal said it had obtained disaster response blueprints which said the plant's operators were woefully unprepared for the scale of the disaster.

Water is still being poured into the damaged reactors to cool melting fuel rods.

But one expert says the radiation leaks will be ongoing and it could take 50 to 100 years before the nuclear fuel rods have completely cooled and been removed.

"As the water leaks out, you keep on pouring water in, so this leak will go on for ever," said Dr John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK's National Nuclear Corporation.

"There has to be some way of dealing with it. The water is connecting in tunnels and concrete-lined pits at the moment and the question is whether they can pump it back.

"The final thing is that the reactors will have to be closed and the fuel removed, and that is 50 to 100 years away.

"It means that the workers and the site will have to be intensely controlled for a very long period of time."

But Laurence Williams, Professor of Nuclear Safety at England's University of Central Lancashire and the former head nuclear regulator for the UK, is relatively comfortable with the situation.

"I have been monitoring it for the last couple of weeks and [the] three reactors seem to be more or less unchanged from initially when they got into the seawater flowing into them," he said.

"We don't know exactly the state of the fuel in those reactors but looking at the data, the pressures and temperatures look fairly stable over the last couple of weeks.

"My view is that as there hasn't been any sort of major catastrophic release of radioactivity, if they can continue to get the fresh water into the reactors and cool them, the decay heat is now fairly stabilising.

"It will take some time before it disappears but so far, so good. But it will take some time to bring under control."

Both experts agree capping the damaged reactors with concrete is not an option.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal says it has obtained disaster-readiness plans which show the facility only had one satellite phone and a single stretcher in case of an accident.

The blueprints also provided no detail about the possibility of using firefighters from Tokyo or national troops - both of which have been part of the response to the Fukushima crisis - to deal with any disaster.

Levels of radioactive iodine-131 in the Pacific off the plant have been recorded at a new high of 4,385 times the legal limit.

In 2002, the plant's operator TEPCO admitted to falsifying safety reports, leading to all of its 17 boiling water reactors being shut down for inspection.

TEPCO has already vowed to dismantle the four reactors at the centre of the world's worst atomic accident in 25 years, but now Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan says the Fukushima plant must be scrapped.


Radioactive water leaks from Japan nuclear plant


TOKYO — Japan's tsunami-stricken nuclear power plant was leaking highly radioactive water into the sea Saturday, nuclear safety officials said.

The plant has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors.

The water was seeping Saturday from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear site into the Pacific Ocean, Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

Measurements show the air right above it contained 1,000 millisieverts of radioactivity. Exposure to 500 millisieverts over a short period of time can increase the long-term risk of cancer. But experts say radiation is quickly diluted by the vast Pacific and that even large amounts have little effect.

It wasn't immediately clear whether workers who have been rushing to bring the reactors under control were exposed. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the Fukushima plant have been evacuated.

Nishiyama said officials will check the level of radiation in seawater near the reactor as well as seawater around 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the reactor. They will use concrete to seal the 8-inch (20-centimeter) crack and try to stop the radiation from leaking.

"This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination," Nishiyama said. "There could be other similar cracks in the area, and we must find them as quickly as possible."

Over the past week, radioactivity beyond the legal limit has been detected in seawater just off the plant.