Japan Nuclear Plant Emits Smoke As Workers Struggle To Reconnect Electricity And Cool Reactors
YAMAGATA, Japan -- Smoke billowed from a building at Japan's crippled nuclear power plant Friday as emergency crews worked to reconnect electricity to cooling systems and spray more water on overheating nuclear fuel at the tsunami-ravaged facility.
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Four of the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's 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.
"We see it as an extremely serious accident," Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters Friday just after arriving in Tokyo. "This is not something that just Japan should deal with, and people of the entire world should cooperate with Japan and the people in the disaster areas."
Frantic efforts were made Thursday to douse a number of units with water, and authorities were preparing to repeat many of 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.
Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, but hazardous levels have been limited to the plant itself. Still, the crisis has forced thousands to evacuate and drained Tokyo's normally vibrant streets of life, its residents either leaving town or holing up in their homes.
The Japanese government has been slow in releasing information on the crisis, even as the troubles have multiplied. In a country where the nuclear industry has a long history of hiding its safety problems, this has left many people – in Japan and among governments overseas – confused and anxious.
"I feel a sense of dread," said Yukiko Morioka, 63, who has seen business dry up at her lottery ticket booth in Tokyo. "I'm not an expert, so it's difficult to understand what's going on. That makes it scarier."
A senior official with the U.N. nuclear agency said Thursday there had been "no significant worsening" at the nuclear plant but that the situation remained "very serious." Graham Andrew told reporters in Vienna that nuclear fuel rods in two reactors were only about half covered with water, and they were also not completely submerged in a third.
Edano said Friday that Tokyo is asking the U.S. government for help and that the two are discussing the specifics.
"We are coordinating with the U.S. government as to what the U.S. can provide and what people really need," Edano said.
At times, the two close allies have offered starkly differing assessments over the dangers at Fukushima. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said Thursday that it could take days and "possibly weeks" to get the complex under control. He defended the U.S. decision to recommend a 50-mile (80-kilometer) evacuation zone for its citizens, wider than the 30-mile (50-kilometer) band Japan has ordered.
Crucial to the effort to regain control over the Fukushima plant is laying a new power line to the plant, allowing operators to restore cooling systems. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., missed a deadline late Thursday but said Friday that workers hoped to complete the effort in 10 to 15 hours, said nuclear safety agency spokesman Minoru Ohgoda.
But the utility is not sure the cooling systems will still function. If they don't, electricity won't help.
The official death toll from the disasters stood at 6,405 as of Friday morning, with 10,259 missing, the national police agency said.
President Barack Obama appeared on television to assure Americans that officials do not expect harmful amounts of radiation to reach the U.S. or its territories. He also said the U.S. was offering Japan any help it could provide.
A utility official said Wednesday that the company has been unable to get information such as water levels and temperatures from any of the spent fuel pools in the four most troubled reactors.
Workers have been dumping seawater when possible to control temperatures at the plant since the quake and tsunami knocked out power to its cooling systems, but they tried even more desperate measures on Units 3 and 4.
On Thursday, military helicopters dumped thousands of gallons of water from huge buckets onto Unit 3, and also used military firefighting trucks normally used to extinguish fires at plane crashes.
Officials announced Friday they would not continue with the helicopter drops – televised footage appeared to show much of that water blowing away – but would continue spraying from the trucks.
Police said more than 452,000 people made homeless by the quake and tsunami were staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities ran short. Both victims and aid workers appealed for more help, as the chances of finding more survivors dwindled.
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.
In Washington, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to consider leaving the country and offered voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna, Elaine Kurtenbach, Shino Yuasa, Jeff Donn and Tim Sullivan in Tokyo contributed to this report.
The risk of radiation contamination from Japan's damaged nuclear power stations has sparked food bans across the globe and more surprisingly, a buying frenzy from South Korean mothers who fear their favorite Japanese-made diapers may suddenly become unavailable.
Cho Myung-jin, who organizes online group-buying for Japanese diapers, saw her website collapse on Tuesday under the weight of traffic as panicked South Koreans chased brands they believe are better quality than locally-made products.
Read more here.
Supply chain disruptions in Japan have forced at least one global automaker to delay the launch of two new models and are forcing other industries to shutter plants and rethink their logistical infrastructure.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said on Wednesday it would delay the launch in Japan of two new additions to the Prius line-up, a wagon and a minivan, from the originally planned end-April due to production disruptions from this month's devastating earthquake.
The world's biggest automaker has suspended production at all of its 12 domestic assembly plants at least through March 26 and has estimated a production loss of 140,000 vehicles until then.
The towering waves that splintered thousands of Japanese homes and lives has forced the country to rethink one of its most sacred Buddhist practices: how it treats the dead.
Desperate municipalities are digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are usually cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.
An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolted parts of northern Japan near a quake-stricken nuclear power plant Wednesday, national broadcaster NHK said.
AOL spoke with Natalia Manzurova, a "cleaner" after the disaster in Chernobyl who suffered many side effects from radiation. Her advice to the people of japan was to leave quickly. She said:
Every nuclear accident is different and the impact cannot be truly measured for years. The government does not always tell the truth. Many will never return to their homes. Their lives will be divided into two parts: before and after Fukushima. They'll worry about their health and their children's health. The government will probably say there was not that much radiation and that it didn't harm them. And the government will probably not compensate them for all that they've lost. What they lost can't be calculated.
Read the rest here.
The Japanese tsunami cracked a vault wide open, leaving a perfect chance for an opportunistic thief. The AP reports:
The earthquake and tsunami that pulverized coastal Japan crippled a bank's security mechanisms and left a vault wide open. That allowed someone to walk off with 40 million yen ($500,000).
The March 11 tsunami washed over the Shinkin Bank, like much else in Kesennuma, and police said between the wave's power and the ensuing power outages, the vault came open.
HuffPost blogger Simon Saradzhyan writes that despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, Russia presses on with it's nuclear program:
While Russian authorities saw the recent calamities in Japan as a chance to initiate a rapprochement with the country, Moscow's overtures to Tokyo have received a cool reception. However, Japan's nuclear crisis nonetheless represents an opportunity for Russian policy-makers to take a fresh look at the country's nuclear energy policies in order to ensure that both existing and future plants are protected against natural or man-made calamities, even those that may still seem unthinkable.
Read the rest here.
While radiation continues to leak from the reactor, the source is known, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. Reports Reuters:
"We continue to see radiation coming from the site ... and the question is where exactly is that coming from?" James Lyons, a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a news conference.
Washington, D.C.'s Cheery Blossom Festival will seek to encourage aid to Japan this year. Reports the AP:
Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington are urging people to donate to the American Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Japan ahead of the festival that honors U.S.-Japanese relations.
Festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente says they are working on plans to recognize the tsunami tragedy during the festival, which runs March 26 to April 10.
Japan's crisis will have macroeconomic repercussions beyond the country, the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned Tuesday.
Very small amounts of radiation have reached Iceland. Reuters reports:
Miniscule amounts of radioactive particles believed to have come from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected as far away as Iceland, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.
They stressed the tiny traces of iodine -- measured by a network of international monitoring stations as they spread eastwards from Japan across the Pacific, North America and to the Atlantic -- were far too low to cause any harm to humans.
Japan's human crisis is being compounded by an economic one. Reports Reuters:
The tsunami that hit Japan this month took such a huge toll on people, equipment and fish that supplies of some seafood could be cut off for a year or more, industry workers said on Tuesday.
The magnitude 9.0 quake on March 11 and the 10-meter (30-foot) tsunami it triggered are known to have killed more than 9,000 people and more than 12,000 are still missing.
But the damage to the coastline north of Tokyo has compounded the human tragedy with devastating commercial woes.
Read more here.
Power lines have been reconnected to all six nuclear reactor units. The AP reports:
The operator of Japan's leaking nuclear plant says power lines have been hooked up to all six reactor units, though more work is needed before electricity can run through them.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, announced the hookup Tuesday but cautioned that workers must check pumps, motors and other equipment before the electricity is turned on.
Reconnecting the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex to the electrical grid is a significant step in getting control of the overheated reactors and storage pools for spent fuels. But it is likely to be days if not longer before the cooling systems can be powered up, since damaged equipment needs to be replaced and any volatile gas must be vented to avoid an explosion.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Japan econmin Yosano: Power shortages likely to have serious impact on Japan economy|
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Japan nuclear safety agency: White smoke rising from reactor no.2 of stricken plant likely to be steam from spent-fuel pool|
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Official death toll from Japan quake & tsunami now exceeds 9,000 - Kyodo|
From ABC News:
A top U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official today said the nuclear crisis in Japan is "on the verge of stabilizing," even as Japanese workers were forced to suspend relief efforts temporarily after gray smoke billowed from two reactors.
|@ BreakingNews : Radiation 1,600 times normal level is detected 12 miles from Fukushima plant, IAEA reports - Kyodo News|
Japanese authorities have taken a major step in managing a nuclear crisis by connecting all six earthquake-damaged reactors to power supply, but it's too soon to say the crisis has reached a turning point, experts said on Monday.
Power has been connected but not switched on to crank up most coolers and pumps, which may have been badly damaged in the quake and tsunami that on March 11 triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Only one pump has been activated.
Reuters is reporting that the Fukushima plant had a history of safety concerns that are now under review:
When the massive tsunami smacked into Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power plant was stacked high with more uranium than it was originally designed to hold and had repeatedly missed mandatory safety checks over the past decade.
The Fukushima plant that has spun into partial meltdown and spewed out plumes of radiation had become a growing depot for spent fuel in a way the American engineers who designed the reactors 50 years earlier had never envisioned, according to company documents and outside experts.
At the time of the March 11 earthquake, the reactor buildings at Fukushima held the equivalent of almost six years of the highly radioactive uranium fuel rods produced by the plant, according to a presentation by Tokyo Electric Power Co to a conference organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Along with questions about whether Tokyo Electric officials waited too long to pump sea water into the plants and abandon hope of saving them, the utility and regulators are certain to face scrutiny on the fateful decision to store most of the plant's spent fuel rods inside the reactor buildings rather than invest in other potentially safer storage options.
The first confirmed death of an American in Japan has been announced. Teacher Taylor Anderson was killed in the earthquake, officials say. MSNBC reports:
An American family was in mourning Monday after learning that their daughter and sibling, a teacher and lifelong student of Japanese culture, had been found dead in Japan –- the first known American victim of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old from Richmond, Va., had lived in Japan since August 2008. She was last seen after the powerful earthquake struck Japan on March 11, riding her bike away from the school where she taught after helping to get her students home.
Read the entire report here.
Grain cargoes are once again reaching Japan. Reports Reuters:
Grain cargoes are reaching Japanese ports after disruptions at terminals last week due to an earthquake and tsunami that held up shipments, shipping and trade sources said on Monday. Sources said vessels were using other ports that had not been affected to discharge cargoes.
The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has been raised to 21,000. Kyodo reports:
The total number of people killed or reported missing as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan stood at 21,459 as of 9 p.m. Monday, the National Police Agency said, while growing signs of reconstruction emerged, with access restored to all communities in the disaster-struck coastal prefecture of Iwate.
Read more here.
Food radiation contamination is more serious than was originally thought. Reuters reports:
The World Health Organization said on Monday that radiation in food after an earthquake damaged a Japanese nuclear plant was more serious than previously thought, eclipsing signs of progress in a battle to avert a catastrophic meltdown in its reactors.
Engineers managed to rig power cables to all six reactors at the Fukushima complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, and started a water pump at one of them to reverse the overheating that has triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Some radiation has been found in seawater in Japan. Reports Reuters:
|@ BreakingNews : Japan's nuclear plant operator says traces of radiation found in sea water nearby - Reuters|
Miraculous survivor Jin Abe, who was found with his grandmother nine days after the quake, speaks here:
New estimates of the damage put the price tag at $300 billion. Reuters reports:
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami caused a total economic loss of up to $300 billion, about 5 percent of Japan's output, according to an initial estimate from risk modeling agency RMS.
The AP is reporting that smoke rising from two reactors caused workers to flee:
Gray smoke rose from two reactor units Monday, temporarily stalling critical work to reconnect power lines and restore cooling systems to stabilize Japan's radiation-leaking nuclear complex.
Workers are racing to bring the nuclear plant under control, but the process is proceeding in fits and starts, stalled by incidents like the smoke and by the need to work methodically to make sure wiring, pumps and other machinery can be safely switched on.
The AP reports that Yukiya Amano, the United Nations' nuclear chief, says government reponses to nuclear crisis are flawed:
The United Nations' nuclear chief says Japan's nuclear crisis has exposed serious problems in how governments respond to disasters, and how they must improve their responses.
Yukiya Amano says information must be transmitted more quickly by governments and that international experts must exchange information more rapidly.
He also said Monday in remarks to a 35-nation emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that the role of the agency itself may need to be reviewed.