Whether the troubled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan suffer a complete core meltdown now depends on the Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers

A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

They struggled on Tuesday and Wednesday to keep hundreds of gallons of seawater a minute flowing through temporary fire pumps into the three stricken reactors, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Among the many problems they faced was what appeared to be yet another fire at the plant.

The reactor operators face extraordinary risks. Tokyo Electric evacuated 750 emergency staff members from the stricken plant on Tuesday, leaving only about 50, when radiation levels soared. By comparison, standard staffing levels at the three active General Electric reactors on the site would be 10 to 12 people apiece including supervisors — an indication that the small crew left behind is barely larger than the contingent on duty on a quiet day.

Tokyo Electric has refused to release the names or any other information about the 50 workers who stayed behind, nor have utility executives said anything about how they are being relieved as they become tired or ill.

Some of those battling flames and spraying water at reactors at Daiichi are members of Japan’s Self-Defense Force, police officers or firefighters. Others are contractors sent to the plant.

Please see the article for more details.

Good luck and best wishes to the 50 who remain.

Panic Food Buying in Tokyo

Bloomberg reports Tokyo Store Urges Calm as Nuclear Fears Spark Panic Buying

Tokyo residents emptied store shelves of food, water and batteries and filled car tanks with gasoline as workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear facility struggled to avert the risk of a meltdown. Hoarders may make it more difficult to send goods to the millions of people affected by the 7-meter (23- foot) tsunami that engulfed Japan’s northeast coast, according to Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano.

At left: A woman shops at Seven & I Holdings Co.’s Ito-Yokado supermarket in Tokyo. Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi

Seven & I Holdings Co., Japan’s biggest retailer, said its Ito-Yokado supermarkets and 7-Eleven convenience stores in Tokyo are emptied of necessities as soon as fresh supplies arrive. “Every day the stores provide a certain amount, but as soon as a shop opens, the products disappear,” Hirotake Henmi, a spokesman for Seven & I, said in a phone interview.

Shoppers at 7-Eleven stores are emptying them of rice balls referred to as Onigiri, batteries and tissue paper, Henmi said. Seven & I, which owns 7-Eleven, has 13,219 of the convenience stores in Japan.

In Tokyo’s Kachidoki area, more than 20 people lined up to buy tissue and toilet paper as boxes were unpacked at one of Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings Co.’s Papasu drug stores.

“Food, water and paper products are in high demand,” said Tetsuya Ishigami, a 40-year-old salesman sent from company headquarters to help. “Bottled water disappears quickly. Customers also come to us for things the victims would need although they can’t ship them there yet.”

Please don’t hoard. It only hurts those who need help the most.

Addendum:

Surrender: Japan suspends work at stricken nuclear plant

It is exceptionally difficult to keep up with news that changes by the minute. No sooner than I finish the above post than comes the grim news of surrender.

Please consider Japan suspends work at stricken nuclear plant

Japan suspended operations to keep its stricken nuclear plant from melting down Wednesday after surging radiation made it too dangerous to stay.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers dousing the reactors in a frantic effort to cool them needed to withdraw.

“The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,” Edano said. “Because of the radiation risk we are on standby,” he said.

Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help. He did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether and how to take up the various offers of help from other countries.

The surge in radiation was apparently the result of a Tuesday explosion in the complex’s Unit 4 reactor, according to officials with Japan’s nuclear safety agency. That blast is thought to have damaged the reactor’s suppression chamber, a water-filled pipe outside the nuclear core that is part of the emergency cooling system.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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