Yahoo!Finance reports Meltdown threat rises at Japanese nuclear plant

Water levels dropped precipitously Monday inside a stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor.

Water levels were restored after the first decrease but the rods remained exposed late Monday night after the second episode, increasing the risk of the spread of radiation and the potential for an eventual meltdown.

The cascading troubles in the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant compounded the immense challenges faced by the Tokyo government, already struggling to send relief to hundreds of thousands of people along the country’s quake- and tsunami-ravaged coast where at least 10,000 people are believed to have died.

Later, a top Japanese official said the fuel rods in all three of the most troubled nuclear reactors appeared to be melting.

Of all these troubles, the drop in water levels at Unit 2 had officials the most worried.

“Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilized for the time being,” said Nuclear and Industrial Agency official Ryohei Shiomi “Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention.”

Late Monday, the chief government spokesman said there were signs that the fuel rods were melting in all three reactors, all of which had lost their cooling systems in the wake of Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami

“Although we cannot directly check it, it’s highly likely happening,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

Japan Appeals for International Aid in Fight Against Meltdown

Bloomberg reports Japan Appeals for International Aid in Fight Against Meltdown

Prime Minister Naoto Kan appealed for international help and workers battled to prevent a nuclear meltdown after a second blast rocked an atomic plant north of Tokyo. Millions remained without electricity or water following Japan’s strongest earthquake, which may have killed 10,000.

Japan’s government asked the United Nations atomic agency to provide “expert missions” to help stabilize the nuclear reactors, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement from Vienna.

The cooling system failed at Fukushima Dai-Ichi station’s No. 1 and No. 3 reactors after the earthquake, and it stopped working yesterday at the No. 2 reactor. Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it cannot rule out that fuel rods are melting at the No. 2 reactor after they became exposed for a second time by a drop in water levels.

About 1.3 million households were without power this morning, and 1.4 million had no running water, according to a government report. Rescue teams were having trouble reaching about 24,000 people stranded in northeastern Japan, NHK Television said.

Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano said “the economic impact will exceed the 20 trillion yen in damage sustained during the Kobe earthquake” of 1995. The government still has 1.3 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) in discretionary funds from this year’s budget that can be allocated for quake relief, he said at a press conference.

Amid various conflicting reports it is difficult to discern fact from hype regarding the risk of nuclear meltdown. Moreover, it seems the officials cannot do so either because gauges and other measurement devices are not working.

No one really seems to know what precisely is going on in those reactors or the likelihood of a major breach.

Moreover, Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months, even if a major meltdown is avoided. Thus, even in the optimistic scenario that further reactor damage is contained, both the economic damage and the death tolls are both likely way understated.

Note that the official death count is around 2,000, but the police estimate in a single district swept away by the Tsunami is 10,000. If so, the overall total could easily be 15,000 if not more.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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