UPDATE 4:03 PM: “U.S. Calls Radiation ‘Extremely High’ …: The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of threat posed by the Japanese nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than ordered by the Japanese government.”
… the Fukushima Daiichi plant, seen in a satellite photo at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday.
Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified on Wednesday after the authorities announced that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam.
The break, at the No. 3 reactor unit, worsened the already perilous conditions at the plant, a day after officials said the containment vessel in the No. 2 reactor had also cracked.
That’s from the 1 pm EDT NY Times banner story, “Peril and Confusion at Nuclear Plant.” Here’s more:
The possibility of high radiation levels above the plant prompted the Japanese military to put off a highly unusual plan to dump water from helicopters “” a tactic normally used to combat forest fires “” to lower temperatures in a pool containing spent fuel rods that was overheating dangerously at the No. 4 reactor. The operation would have meant flying a helicopter into the steam rising from the plant….
The reactor’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said it had been able to double the number of people battling the crisis at the plant to 100 from 50, but that was before the clouds of radioactive steam began billowing from the plant.
The Washington Post has the breaking story of how the biggest consumer of new nuclear plants is responding:
In a dramatic reversal, China’s State Council, or cabinet, announced Wednesday that it was suspending approval for all new nuclear power plants until the government could issue revised safety rules, in light of the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan.
The State Council, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, also announced the government would conduct safety checks at the country’s existing nuclear facilities and those under construction, according to a brief statement issued after the meeting and reported by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
“We will temporarily suspend approval of nuclear power projects, including those in the preliminary stages of development,” the statement said….
China, with 13 nuclear reactors in operation, at least 26 others under construction, and more in the planning stage, has by far the world’s most ambitious nuclear power program.
China thus joins Germany and Switzerland in taking strong action to assure public safety in the wake of this disaster, though I’m not certain I would have suggested going as far as Germany in shutting down the seven nuclear plants built before 1980. A German journalist who interviewed me today said they were not near seismic faults and obviously they’re not subject to tsunami.
I’d be most concerned if they were in a 500 year floodplain and didn’t have secure backup generators for their cooling systems (i.e. not in the basement!) and of course if they also have spent fuel stored on site.
Still, as I wrote yesterday, I’d hit the pause button on the tiny number of new uber-expensive taxpayer-backed nukes under consideration here until we had, say, a full National Academy of Sciences review.
UPDATE: See also the WashPost banner story, “AS RADIATION LEVELS SPIKE, U.S. URGES AMERICANS WITHIN 50 MILES TO LEAVE.”
- Intro to nuclear power
- CNN opinion: Japan and future of U.S. nuclear power, “The U.S. government and nuclear industry must take new actions to ensure that nuclear power is safe for the American public.”