A Japanese girl is scanned for radiation 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/KYODO)
TOKYO - Japanese engineers toiled frantically to avert a catastrophic release of radiation from a crippled nuclear power plant north of Tokyo on Friday, but the United States said it could take weeks to cool the facility's overheating fuel rods.
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Officials said they hoped to fix a power cable to at least two of the six reactors in the hope of restarting water pumps and were preparing to douse them in the afternoon with water from fire trucks.
However, no one was holding out hope that the crisis -- about to enter
its second week after last Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami
-- could be overcome anytime soon.
Japan's nuclear agency spokesman conceded that a "Chernobyl solution" of
burying the reactors in sand and concrete was in the back of the
Millions in Tokyo remained indoors on Friday, fearing a blast of
radioactive material from the complex 240 km (150 miles) to the north,
though prevailing winds would likely carry contaminated smoke or steam
away from the densely populated city to dissipate over the Pacific
Japan's nuclear disaster, the world's worst since Chernobyl in Ukraine
25 years ago, has triggered alarm and reviews of safety at atomic power
plants around the globe.
The United States' top nuclear regulator said it could take weeks to
reverse the overheating of fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
"This is something that will take some time to work through, possibly
weeks, as you eventually remove the majority of the heat from the
reactors and then the spent-fuel pools," Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a news conference at the White House.
Yukiya Amano, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), was due back in his homeland later on Friday with an
international team of experts after earlier complaining about a lack of
information from Japan.
Graham Andrew, his senior aide, called the situation at the plant
"reasonably stable " but the government said white smoke or steam was
still rising from three reactors and helicopters used to dump water on
the plant had shown exposure to small amounts of radiation.
"The situation remains very serious, but there has been no significant worsening since yesterday," Andrew said.
The nuclear agency said the radiation level at the plant was as high as
20 millisieverts per hour. The limit for the workers was 100 per hour.Cooling pumps may not work
Even if the engineers manage to connect the power at the Fukushima
Daiichi plant, it is not clear the pumps will work as they may have been
damaged in the earthquake or subsequent explosions and there are real
fears of the electricity shorting and causing another explosion.
Nuclear agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said it was unclear how
effective spraying water on the reactors from helicopters had been on
Thursday, but the priority now was to get water into the spent-fuel
"We have to reduce the heat somehow and may use seawater," he told a
news conference. "We need to get the reactors back online as soon as
possible and that's why we're trying to restore power to them."
Jaczko said the cooling pool for spent-fuel rods at the complex's reactor No.4 may have run dry and another was leaking.Radiation levels in Tokyo barely above average
The government had warned Tokyo's 13 million residents on Thursday to
prepare for a possible large-scale blackout but later said there was no
need for one. Still, many firms voluntarily reduced power, submerging
parts of the usually neon-lit city in darkness.
The US embassy in Tokyo has urged citizens living within 80 km (50
miles) of the Daiichi plant to evacuate or remain indoors "as a
precaution", while Britain's foreign office urged citizens "to consider
leaving the area". Other nations have urged nationals in Japan to leave
the country or head south.
Japan's government has told everyone living within 20 km (12 miles) of
the plant to evacuate, and advised people within 30 km (18 miles) to
At its worst, radiation in Tokyo has reached 0.809 microsieverts per
hour this week, 10 times below what a person would receive if exposed to
a dental x-ray. On Thursday, radiation levels were barely above
The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the earthquake and
tsunami worsened following a cold snap that brought heavy snow to
Supplies of water and heating oil are low at evacuation centers, where many survivors wait bundled in blankets.
About 30,000 households in the north were still without electricity in
near-freezing weather, Tohuku Electric Power Co. said, and the
government said at least 1.6 million households lacked running water.
The National Police Agency said on Friday it had confirmed 5,692 deaths
from the quake and tsunami disaster, while 9,522 people were unaccounted
for in six prefectures.