Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japan to open airlock at crippled nuclear plant... and release a radioactive plume

Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been cleared to open the No. 2 reactor building's airlock to ease sauna-like conditions inside, the plant's owner said Sunday.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it planned to open the heavy double doors slowly overnight, taking about eight hours to complete the process to avoid disturbing contaminated dust inside the containment building. The company has been trying to filter radioactive particles out of the air inside the building for several days, and Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency approved Friday plans to open the airlock, Tokyo Electric announced.

The reactor is one of three at Fukushima Daiichi that suffered meltdowns after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan. The tsunami swamped the plant and knocked out cooling systems that kept the three operating reactors from overheating, leading to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Japanese authorities used robot probes to peer into the reactor housings in April, finding temperatures up to 41 degrees Celsius (106 F) and humidity ranging from 94% to 99% inside unit 2. Engineers have long suspected that the reactor was leaking a large percentage of the hundreds of tons of water being poured into it every day to keep it cool following the accident. (read more)