Nu­clear re­pairs halted

Townsville Bulletin - - World Snapshot -

JA­PAN’S gov­ern­ment is on ‘ ‘ max­i­mum alert’ ’af­ter highly ra­dioac­tive wa­ter halted re­pair work at the crip­pled Fukushima power plant and plu­to­nium was found in soil.

The earth­quake and tsunami that rav­aged Ja­pan’s north-east coast and left more than 28,000 dead or miss­ing also knocked out re­ac­tor cool­ing sys­tems at the Fukushima plant, which has leaked ra­di­a­tion into the air and sea.

Prime Min­is­ter Naoto Kan con­ceded the sit­u­a­tion at the coastal atomic power sta­tion re­mained ‘‘ un­pre­dictable’’ and pledged his gov­ern­ment would ‘‘ tackle the prob­lem while in a state of max­i­mum alert’’.

Emer­gency crews brav­ing the ra­di­a­tion threat have used fire en­gines and pumps to pour thou­sands of tons of wa­ter onto re­ac­tors where fuel rods are as­sumed to have par­tially melted, and also topped up pools for spent fuel rods.

But the run-off from the stop-gap op­er­a­tion is now mak­ing it too dan­ger­ous for work­ers to go near sev­eral of the re­ac­tor build­ings – al­ready charred by ex­plo­sions – to re­pair the cool­ing sys­tems needed to sta­bilise the plant.

For now, how­ever, they have no choice but to keep pump­ing wa­ter i nto t he stricken re­ac­tors, said top gov­ern­ment spokesman Yukio Edano.

If the rods were fully ex­posed to the air, they would rapidly heat up, melt down and spew out far greater plumes of ra­di­a­tion at the site, lo­cated about 250km north­east of Tokyo, nu­clear ex­perts fear.

‘‘ We need to stop the fuel rods from heat­ing up and dry­ing up,’’ said Edano in a tele­vised press con­fer­ence.

‘‘ Con­tin­u­ing the cool­ing is un­avoid­able . . . we need to pri­ori­tise in­ject­ing wa­ter.’’

Run-off has ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing the op­er­a­tion in the base­ments of the tur­bine rooms con­nected to three re­ac­tors, and filled up their ad­ja­cent tun­nel sys­tems that stop roughly 60m short of the Pa­cific Ocean shore.

The wa­ter out of re­ac­tor t wo has mea­sured 1 0 0 0 mil­lisiev­erts per hour – four t i mes t he r ecently-hiked to­tal ex­po­sure limit for emer­gency staff, and a level that can cause ra­di­a­tion sick­ness with nau­sea and vom­it­ing within an hour of ex­po­sure.

The im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is to safely dis­pose of the mas­sive amounts of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter – the tun­nel near re­ac­tor two alone holds 6000 cu­bic me­tres, more than two Olympic swim­ming pools.

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