Sunday, March 13, 2011


Reactor No.1 after the explosion. Reuters/Tepco
UPDATED (As of 8:30 PM, Manila Time) 

Okuma, Japan -- Officials at an embattled nuclear power plant in the northeast of Japan are desperately trying to cool down a nuclear reactor in the brink of a possible meltdown after a failed shutdown in the wake of Friday's devastating M8.9 earthquake. According to officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), cooling systems at another reactor inside the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant also failed hours after an explosion at reactor no. 1 occurred, stoking fears of a meltdown. The company has clarified that the explosion was caused not by a meltdown, but by hydrogen gas which formed after workers pumped seawater in the superheated reactor to cool it down. The hydrogen gas was allowed to escape in order to relieve pressure inside the reactor causing the explosion which destroyed the reactor's concrete housing but not the reactor itself.

According the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, radiation levels around the plant has dropped following efforts to pump seawater into the reactor. Before the blast, radiation levels were a 1,000 times the normal limit. Radioactive cesium and iodine, which are by-products of nuclear fission, were also detected in the plant's ventilation -- signs that a potential meltdown could occur.

Officials have ordered to have an area of 20 kilometers around the plant cordoned-off and evacuated. Authorities have already evacuated around 210,000 people out of 20-km radius.

Evacuation efforts are underway around the plant. (Reuters)
Nuclear experts are warning of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster if efforts to cool down the plant's reactors fail. A meltdown occurs when temperatures inside a reactor reaches 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the uranium fuel rods to melt. Melted fuel could eventually eat away its concrete housing and escape into the environment contaminating plant, animal and human lives. The risk of cancers and other diseases from the fallout would increase and could spread to other countries. The reactor will have to be cemented permanently to prevent more radioactive material from escaping.

Japan has been dependent on nuclear power for over 30 years. This is the first time that a nuclear emergency has been declared in the country, which could hurt its embattled economy and delay its rise out of the devastating catastrophe which shook it.

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