Struggle to Bring Reactor Under Control
Back at the Fukushima damaged power plant, emergency crews are working hard to fix the power supply to cooling systems and spray more water on overheating nuclear fuel at the tsunami-ravaged facility. Four of the six reactor units have seen fires, explosions or partial meltdowns in the week since the tsunami.
While the reactor cores where energy is generated are a concern, water in the pools used to store used nuclear fuel are also major worries. Water in at least one fuel pool in the complex’s Unit 3 is believed to be dangerously low, exposing the stored fuel rods. Without enough water, the rods may heat further and spew out radiation.
At the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, a core team of 180 emergency workers has been rotating out of the complex to minimize radiation exposure. The storage pools need a constant source of cooling water. Even when removed from reactors, uranium rods are still extremely hot and must be cooled for months, possibly longer, to prevent them from heating up again and emitting radioactivity.
Efforts were made Thursday to douse a number of units with water, and authorities were preparing to continue those efforts. Friday’s smoke came from the complex’s Unit 2, and its cause was not known, the nuclear safety agency said. An explosion had hit the building on Tuesday, possibly damaging a crucial cooling chamber that sits below the reactor core. Last week’s 9.0 quake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast set off the nuclear problems by knocking out power to cooling systems at the reactors. The unfolding crises have led to power shortages in Japan, forced auto and other factories to close, sending shockwaves through global manufacturing and trade, and triggered a plunge in Japanese stock prices.
Police said more than 4,50,000 people were made homeless by the quake and tsunami and are were staying in schools and other shelters. Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 200+ kilometers south of the plant, but dangerous levels have been limited to the plant itself. Still, the crisis has forced thousands to evacuate and drained Tokyo’s otherwise vibrant streets of life. Many residents leave the town.