What some call hype, others call precaution. You can easily find a nuclear expert who will say what you want to hear about Japan except “everything is OK”.
For example, should the evacuation area in Japan be 12 miles or 50? I don’t know, but I can report both positions, including an update from the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission who suggests more caution is warranted.
The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of threat posed by the Japanese nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than ordered by the Japanese government.
Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, said in Congressional testimony that the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there completely exposed. As a result, he said, “We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”
If his analysis is accurate and Japanese workers have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — covered with water at all times — radiation could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at reactor No. 4, but to keep workers at the Daiichi complex from servicing any of the other crippled reactors at the plant.
Mr. Jaczko said radiation levels may make it impossible to continue what he called the “backup backup” cooling functions that have so far prevented full nuclear meltdowns at the other reactors. Those efforts consist of dumping water on overheated fuel and then letting the radioactive steam vent into the atmosphere.
The emergency measures are all that has prevented the disaster at Daiichi from becoming a full blow meltdown.
Mr. Jaczko’s testimony came as the American Embassy, on advice from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told American to evacuate a radius of “approximately 50 miles” from the Fukushima plant.
The advice represents a far more grave assessment of the situation at the stricken reactors than the decisions made by the Japanese themselves, who have told everyone within 20 kilometers, about 12 miles, to evacuate, and those between 20 and 30 kilometers to take shelter. And the recommendation comes as the Japanese government has said it will be giving less information about the situation.
Did you catch that last sentence? Here it is again “the Japanese government has said it will be giving less information about the situation”
If you want to end speculation the way to do it is give full, accurate, information as best you can. I believe a promise of “less information” is an admission things are worse than previously disclosed. How much worse? No one knows.
Emperor Delivers Rare Address on Nuclear Crisis
The New York Times reports Emperor Delivers Rare Address on Nuclear Crisis
Emperor Akihito of Japan, in an unprecedented television address to the nation, said on Wednesday that he was “deeply worried” about the ongoing nuclear crisis at several stricken reactors and asked for people to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.”
An official with the Imperial Household Agency said that Akihito had never before delivered a nationally televised address of any kind, not even in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people. The address was videotaped.
The remarks on Wednesday afternoon were the first public comments from Akihito, 77, since a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan last Friday, and they underscored the urgency of multiple crises confronting the country. Akihito expressed his concern for the survivors of the disaster and thanked the rescue teams working under difficult conditions in the north.
An estimated 440,000 people are living in makeshift shelters or evacuation centers, officials said. Bitterly cold and windy weather compounded the misery as survivors endured shortages of food, fuel and water.
Weather forecasters predicted a cold front moving into the region would send the overnight temperatures in northeast Japan below freezing, and the government said the cold posed a health risk for evacuees.
Lack of Water, Shelter, an Immediate Concern
The immediate threat to 440,000 evacuees and countless more stranded is lack of shelter and water.
My friend Mike in Tokyo Rogers thinks far more will die from exposure to the elements and lack of water than from nuclear fallout.
Assuming those reactors don’t spew sufficiently toxic radiation, Rogers is most likely correct. Let me state it more optimistically: I believe he is correct.
However, should a MOX reactor suffer a complete meltdown and spew plutonium dust, we could be hugely wrong.
I cannot assess the odds and if officials in Japan can, they are not mentioning them.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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