Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tokyo Electric Tries to Cool Unstable Reactor, Avert `Three Mile Island'

Japanese officials battling to prevent a meltdown at a nuclear power station after Friday’s record earthquake are using seawater to try and cool a reactor and prevent damage to the chamber holding its radioactive core.

An explosion at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai- Ichi nuclear power station yesterday destroyed the walls of its No. 1 reactor building and injured four people. A hydrogen leak caused the blast, which didn’t damage the steel chamber, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a briefing yesterday.

Asia’s biggest utility “has decided to fill the containment with seawater,” Edano said. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency couldn’t confirm a meltdown at the plant and monitoring around the reactor is showing that radiation is falling, spokesman Shinji Kinjyo said today.

Lack of adequate cooling for a reactor may cause a core meltdown, the most dangerous kind of nuclear power accident, releasing massive amounts of radiation, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania resulted in a partial meltdown, without a breach in the containment building, according to the commission.

“This case is quite difficult, it would be closer to what happened in 1979 at Three Mile Island,” Rafael Arutyunyan, first deputy director of Institute for Safety of Nuclear Energy, Russian Academy of Sciences, said on Russian television. “Only a small amount of active particles made it outside and were released into the atmosphere, so there were no consequences for the population. That’s the way we’re heading at the moment.” (read more)