Japan's nuclear crisis takes new twists

09:00, March 17, 2011      

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The unfolding nuclear radiation crisis in Japan took on a new chapter Wednesday as Japan said it was close to finishing a new electricity transmission line to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant, but US officials complained that Tokyo was not forthright with what was really happening there.

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a Congressional hearing that all the water is gone from the spent fuel storage pond of the nuclear plant's Unit 4 reactor, but Japanese officials denied it. Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, said the "condition is stable"at Unit 4.

Jaczko said the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there exposed and spewing radiation. As a result, he said, "We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures."

Jaczko said radiation levels at the plant might have elevated to fairly high levels, which make it impossible to continue human cooling operations that have helped check a full meltdown of nuclear rods at several reactors there. Those efforts consist of using fire hoses to dump water on overheated fuel and then letting the radioactive steam vent into the atmosphere.

The possibility of high radiation levels above the plant has prompted the Japanese military to put off a desperate effort to dump water from helicopters in order to lower temperatures of the reactors and the spent fuel rods supposedly submerged in a cooling pool at the Unit 4 reactor. The highly risky operation would have meant flying a helicopter into the radioactive steams rising from the plant.

Gregory Jaczko gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the nuclear crisis than Tokyo, saying the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and he advised American nationals to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter set up by Japan.

Jaczko's testimony came as the American Embassy in Tokyo told Americans to evacuate a radius of 50 miles from the Fukushima plant. Japan set the no-entering perimeter at 20 miles.

At the hearting in Washington, Jaczko said that US Nuclear Regulatory Commission believed the radiations at the plant ran at "levels that would be lethal with a fairly short period of time.''

Nevertheless, Japan did not lessen their efforts to bring the crisis under control. Japanese officials said early Thursday that they may be close to bringing power back to the nuclear power plant and restoring the reactors' cooling systems. The magnitude-9 earthquake and a surging tsunami knocked out electricity supply and ruined backup generators there.

The new power line is hoped to revive electric-powered pumps, allowing Tokyo Electric Power Co to control the rising temperatures that have led to at least partial meltdowns in the reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said the new power line to the Fukushima plant is almost finished and that officials plan to try it "as soon as possible."

As fear, confusion and unanswered questions swirled around the crisis, and Japan suffered myriad other trials from last week's earthquake and tsunami believed to have killed more than 10,000, Japanese emperor took the unprecedented step of directly addressing his country on camera, urging his people not to give up.

"It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead," Emperor Akihito said Wednesday. "I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy."

People's Daily Online
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