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JAPAN IN NUCLEAR STANDBY
Fourth blast hits Japan nuclear plant - media
A fourth explosion has rocked the Fukushima nuclear plant on Tuesday at Unit 4 at the facility, the Japanese Kyodo news agency reports. The agency also reported high levels of radiation at Unit 3, which was hit by a blast on Monday.
Damaged third (L) and fourth reactors (R) of the Fukushima-1 power plant (AFP Photo / TEPCO via Jiji Press)
Japan may be losing the battle at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after a rise in radiation levels meant attempts to stabilize the situation had to be halted.
Smoke has been seen coming from the site on Wednesday, which has already been hit with explosions and fires since Friday's mega-quake .
Japanese news agency NHK broadcast pictures of what seemed to be a column of smoke rising from the reactor at Unit 3 of the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant, hours after a fire broke out at the nuclear reactor.
Tokyo Electric Power Co suggested it could indicate the water inside the spent fuel pool within the reactor could be boiling. The reactor itself is feared to have cracked.
Further operations at the facility were suspended to prevent Fukushima-1 plant from melting down. Due to a surge in radiation, all 50 remaining workers who were dealing with the crisis were withdrawn from the facility on Wednesday, but allowed to return almost an hour later, according to Kyodo news agency. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the process of cooling the reactors with water was disrupted by the need to pull the workers out.
Japan’s Defense Ministry decided to use helicopters and fire trucks to spray water and boric acid to prevent further radiation leaks and to cool down the reactors. But the operation had to be aborted due to high radiation levels over the facility.
Japan has requested boric acid from South Korea. Seoul on Wednesday said it would provide 53 tons of the acid, which amounts to almost all the country has, except for a quantity for domestic use.
The Kyodo agency has been reporting on the status of the Fukushima-1 reactors. As of Wednesday evening, cooling has failed at reactors 1, 2, and 3. The buildings of the reactors have also been damaged by the series of recent explosions. Seawater was pumped into the reactors to cool them down.
Reactor 1’s core is partially melted. The fuel rods in reactor 2 have been fully exposed, temporarily, and its containment vessel is damaged. The reactor 3 area revealed high levels of radiation; there are fears that the containment vessel of the reactor and its core may have been damaged and that radiation is leaking out.
Potential meltdown is feared at reactor 2.
Reactor 4 suffered an explosion at the pool storing spent fuel rods. No water has been poured in to cool the pool and the water level has not been observed. Two fires were seen at the premises on Tuesday and Wednesday. Spraying of boric acid in the reactor facility is being considered, as well as using a water cannon truck to cool the spent nuclear fuel pool.
Reactors 5 and 6 have been showing a slight rise in the temperature of the spent fuel pools.
Early Wednesday, the level of radiation at the plant surged to 10 millisieverts per hour and then dropped to 8-6 millisieverts. Still, this is at least ten times above average. Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency suggests it happened due to a possible radiation leak from reactor 2.
Officials reported that 70 per cent of fuel rods at one of the six reactors at Fukushima-1 were significantly damaged in the aftermath of Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The toll is further enlarged by reports of 33 per cent of fuel rods having been damaged at another reactor.
An official from Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the worst case scenario would be if the rods became exposed as they can break easily.
"Under such circumstances, the radiation material which is normally contained inside the container could seep out of it," he added as cited by the Associated Press.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says a computer system that forecasts the spread of radioactivity has not been working due to malfunctioning monitoring posts around the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant, reports Japanese broadcaster NHK.
The government has ordered some 140,000 people in the vicinity of the plant to stay indoors. But by Wednesday night Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano stated that radiation 20-30km from the plant posed no immediate health risk. Edano also said that the government has no plans to expand the evacuation area of within 20 kilometers from the plant for now.
One hundred and sixty kilometers North of Tokyo the radiation level was exceeding the norm by 300 times. The radiation level in Tokyo, measured by people arriving at the airport, came out 11 times higher than what is deemed safe.
Japanese Emperor Akihito made a televised address to his disaster-stricken nation on Wednesday. In his appearance, that interrupted the regular coverage, Akihito said the problems at Fukushima power plant were unpredictable and that he was "deeply worried" following the earthquake he described as "unprecedented in scale."
"I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas. The number of deceased and missing increases by the day, we cannot know how many victims there will be. My hope is that as many people possible are found safe," Akihito said as cited by Reuters. "Ihope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times," he said, urging survivors not to "abandon hope."
The number of dead and missing from Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami has exceeded 11,900, over 3,700 of them dead, according to Japan’s NHK broadcaster. In Onagawa Town, which is located on the peninsula, about 5,000 people, or half the population, remain unaccounted for.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said 26,000 people have been rescued so far. Relief efforts are being hampered by a shortage of fuel for trucks and ambulances.