'Japan crisis reaching worst case scenario'

Russian atomic chief says the overheating reactors at the Fukushima nuke plant escalating as radiation levels continue to surge, police attempt to cool spent nuclear fuel with water cannons.

By REUTERS
March 16, 2011 17:23
3 minute read.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)

 
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TOKYO - Converging international reports on the deteriorating nuclear crisis in Japan on Wednesday indicated that the situation appeared to be spinning out of control on Wednesday as workers withdrew briefly from a stricken power plant because of surging radiation levels and a helicopter failed to drop water on the most troubled reactor.

The nuclear crisis is developing according to the worst case scenario, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation said.

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"Unfortunately, the situation is developing under the worst scenario," Sergei Kiriyenko, who presides over the bulk of the former Soviet Union's military and civilian nuclear facilities, told Reuters. Kiriyenko said Russia still did not have full information from Japan on the situation so Russian experts were having to model the developments at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

The overheating at other reactors at the plant showed the crisis was now escalating according to the worst outcome modelled by the experts, he added.

In a sign of desperation, the police will try to cool spent nuclear fuel at one of the facility's reactors with water cannons, normally used to quell riots. Early in the day, another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled facility, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fear in the capital and international alarm.

Japan's government said radiation levels outside the plant's gates were stable but, in a sign of being overwhelmed, appealed to private companies to help deliver supplies to tens of thousands of people evacuated from around the complex.

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"People would not be in immediate danger if they went outside with these levels. I want people to understand this," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a televised news conference, referring to people living outside a 30-kilometer (18-mile) exclusion zone. Some 140,000 people inside the zone have been told to stay indoors.



Workers were trying to clear debris to build a road so fire trucks could reach reactor No. 4 at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. Flames were no longer visible at the building housing the reactor.

High radiation levels prevented a helicopter from flying to the site to drop water into the No. 3 reactor to try to cool its fuel rods. The unit's roof was damaged by an earlier explosion and steam was seen rising there earlier in the day. The plant operator described No. 3 as the "priority". No more information was available, but that reactor is the only one at Daiichi which uses plutonium in its fuel mix.

The situation at No. 4 reactor, where the fire broke out, was "not so good", the plant operator added, while water was being poured into reactors No. 5 and 6, indicating the entire six-reactor facility was now at risk of overheating.

Japanese Emperor Akihito, delivering a rare video message to his people, said he was deeply worried by the country's nuclear crisis which was "unprecedented in scale".

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times," the emperor said.

Estimates of losses to Japanese output from damage to buildings, production and consumer activity ranged from between 10 and 16 trillion yen ($125-$200 billion), up to one-and-a-half times the economic losses from the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake. Damage to Japan's manufacturing base and infrastructure is also threatening significant disruption to the global supply chain, particularly in the technology and auto sectors.

The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the earthquake and devastating tsunami that followed worsened overnight following a cold snap that brought snow to some of the worst-affected areas.

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