Monday, July 15, 2024

Tokyo braces for radiation

Japan Nuke Plant Blasts
Tokyo braces for radiation
Japan faced a potential catastrophe yesterday after a quake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.
Radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant has reached harmful levels, the government says.
The warning comes after the plant was rocked by a third blast which appears to have damaged one of the reactors’ containment systems for the first time.
If it is breached, there are fears of more serious radioactive leaks.
The crisis has been prompted by last Friday’s 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan.
Yesterday morning, reactor 2 became the third to explode in four days at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, reported BBC.
A fire also briefly broke out at the plant’s reactor 4, and is believed to have caused radioactive leaks.
Reactor 4 had been shut down before the quake for maintenance, but its spent nuclear fuel rods are still stored on the site.
Radiation levels in the Japanese capital — 250km away — were reported to be higher than normal, but officials said there were no health dangers.
Tokyo residents have been stocking up on supplies, with some stores selling out of items such as food, water, face masks and candles.
Housewife Mariko Kawase, 34, told AFP news agency: “I am shopping now because we may not be able to go out due to the radiation.”
Koji Yamazaki, professor at Hokkaido University graduate school of environmental science, said “Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to human bodies because it will be dissipated by the time it gets to Tokyo.”
“If the wind gets stronger, it means the material flies faster but it will be even more dispersed in the air.”
NO-FLY ZONE
In a televised address, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: “There is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out.”
He said that those living within between 20km and 30km of the plant were at risk and should not leave their homes.
Residents within 20km have already been advised to evacuate, and the premier said anyone left in that exclusion zone must leave, reported Reuters.
“Now we are talking about levels that can impact human health,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
He told residents: “Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight.
“Don’t turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors.”
Japan also announced a 30-km no-fly zone around the reactors to prevent planes spreading the radiation further afield.
Radiation levels around Fukushima for one hour’s exposure rose to eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year, said the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco).
The International Atomic Energy Agency said after yesterday’s blast that radiation dosages of up to 400 millisieverts per hour had been recorded at the site.
Exposure to over 100 millisieverts a year is a level which can lead to cancer, according to the World Nuclear Association.
On Monday, a hydrogen blast at the Fukushima plant’s reactor 3 was felt 40km away. It followed a blast at reactor 1 on Saturday.
All explosions have followed cooling system breakdowns. Engineers are trying to prevent meltdowns by flooding the chambers of the nuclear reactors with seawater.
Japan’s nuclear safety agency said it suspects yesterday’s blast may have damaged reactor 2’s suppression chamber.
The BBC’s Chris Hogg in Tokyo says that would make it a more serious incident than the previous explosions, which were thought just to have damaged the buildings housing the reactors.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON”
Japanese media have become more critical of Kan’s handling of the disaster and criticized the government and nuclear plant operator Tepco for its failure to provide enough information on the incident.
Kan himself lambasted the operator for taking so long to inform his office about one of the blasts, demanding to know “what the hell is going on?” Kyodo reported.
Kyodo said Kan had ordered Tepco not to pull employees out of the plant.
“The TV reported an explosion. But nothing was said to the premier’s office for about an hour,” a Kyodo reporter quoted Kan telling power company executives.
Lam Ching-wan, a chemical pathologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the blasts could expose the population to longer-term exposure to radiation, which can raise the risk of thyroid and bone cancers and leukemia. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable, he said.
“Very acute radiation, like that which happened in Chernobyl and to the Japanese workers at the nuclear power station, is unlikely for the population,” he said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, talking of levels of radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s No 4 reactor, said: “There is definitely a possibility that this could affect people’s bodies.”
Jennex said the crisis in Japan, the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack, was worse that the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979.
“But you’re nowhere near a Chernobyl … Chernobyl there was no impediment to release, it just blew everything out into the atmosphere,” he said. “You’ve still got a big chunk of the containment there holding most of it in.”
Authorities had previously been trying to prevent meltdowns in the complex’s nuclear reactors by flooding the chambers with sea water to cool the reactors down.
A sudden drop in cooling water levels when a pump ran out of fuel had fully exposed the fuel rods for a time, an official said. Tepco had resumed pumping sea water into the reactor early yesterday.
US warships and planes helping with relief efforts moved away from the coast temporarily because of low-level radiation. The Seventh Fleet described the move as precautionary.
South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines said they would test Japanese food imports for radiation.

 

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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