Fukushima staff battle new spike in pressure at reactor
Published 21/03/2011 | 05:00
THE 'Fukushima Fifty', the Japanese workers battling the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, faced a new setback yesterday after a spike in pressure at one of the reactors they are trying to contain.
It occurred in a holding vessel around reactor No 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and forced engineers to consider releasing more radioactive material into the atmosphere. A similar tactic produced explosions in the early days of the crisis.
Officials warned that a release of contamination this time would be larger than before, because more nuclear fuel had degraded. It could result in a cloud dense with radioactive iodine, krypton and xenon.
Tepco, the plant operator, temporarily suspended the venting plan after the pressure stopped climbing, but said it was still at a high level.
Hikaru Kuroda, a Tepco manager, said that temperatures inside reactor three, which contains highly toxic plutonium, had reached 572F (300C) but had "stabilised" after seawater was continuously pumped in to keep it cool. In a more positive development, workers were close to restoring mains electricity to the plant's six reactors, which they hope will allow them to restart the conventional cooling systems knocked out by the earthquake on March 11.
The Japanese government confirmed that the entire Fukushima Daiichi complex would be scrapped once the disaster was contained. Officials also admitted they had been unprepared for the nuclear disaster and failed to hand out iodine pills to people in the area.
They gave potassium iodide, which helps to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer, to people living within a 12-mile radius only three days after an explosion which should have triggered immediate distribution.
Speaking in the city of Fukushima, 40 miles from the plant, Kazuma Yokota, a safety official, said: "We should have made this decision and announced it sooner. It is true that we had not foreseen a disaster of these proportions. We had not practised or trained for something this bad."
Small amounts of radiation from the nuclear disaster have now been found in spinach and milk from nearby farms, in tap water in Tokyo, and in rainfall and dust over a wider area.
They were not high enough to be a danger to human health.
Taiwan became the first country to report low levels of radiation in Japanese imports, in a batch of fava beans.
Tepco's president has issued a public apology for "causing such great concern and nuisance". Ten days before the disaster, the company admitted to Japan's nuclear safety watchdog that it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment at the plant. (© Daily Telegraph, London)