Explosion rocks nuclear plant at Fukushima: Injuries, plumes of smoke, walls collapsed. Japan declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake.
March 13. Japan says second nuclear plant blast possible, but reactor will withstand blast as in the first explosion.
The BradBlog is posting continuous updates from around the web.
EXPLOSION ROCKS NUCLEAR PLANT AT FUKUSHIMA | INJURIES, PLUMES OF SMOKE, WALLS COLLAPSED
Opening this as a new article, picking up from the much UPDATED last one, as to the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Latest UPDATES, beginning with the EXPLOSION, now posted at bottom of this article.
“Explosion heard at quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan – AFP via Sky News”
“FLASH: Several people appear to have been injured after reported Fukushima plant explosion – media”
“Japan nuclear plant update: Several workers injured following explosion at quake-hit site – NHK”
3/12 12:22am PT: Most detailed report on explosion at moment. From Lisa Twaronite at MarketWatch…
TOKYO (MarketWatch) — Smoke or steam was seen around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Saturday, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK. Several worders were reported injured at the plant, NHK said, adding that the exact cause of the emission was unknown. NHK reported an explosion was heard about 10 minutes before the white cloud appeared around the plant. Japanese media earlier Saturday warned that a meltdown was possible or may be already occurring at plant, after Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan’s northeast coast and damaged the reactor’s cooling system.
3/12 12:37am PT: NBC: “Explosion rocks quake-hit Japanese nuke plant”
“Japan nuclear plant update: Walls and roof of a building at site destroyed by blast – NHK via Sky News”
Reuters: Tokyo Electric Power Co. “(TEPCO) says four people taken to hospital after reported explosion, no word on condition: report”
3/12 12:53am PT: From Washington Post East Asia reporter Chico Harlan: “People in Fukushima area are being asked to close doors, shut windows, cover mouths with masks, wet towels”
3/12 12:53am PT: Good god. See the explosion AT APPX :47 mark in video…
3/12 1:54am PT: Via @BreakingNews: “Japan nuclear plant update: Hourly radiation leaking from Fukushima is equal to amount permitted in one year, official tells Kyodo”
And here’s a before and after explosion shot via @Jadath. Note the skeletal structure in the “after” shot…
3/12 2:05am PT: Better video and commentary now from BBC here, but it doesn’t seem to be embeddable, so you’ll have to go to the link to look at it.
During the video, the BBC nuclear expert Malcolm Grimston says: “I still very strongly suspect that’s not an actual nuclear explosion. … The issue is if that’s damage to the containment, the nuclear materials may be able to escape. … If that did include nuclear materials, we’ll be seeing very high levels of contamination very quickly.”
The hope is that because the nuclear process had been shut down — even as officials have been unable to properly cool the plant — the nuclear process is unlikely to have restarted.
3/12 2:12am PT: VOA’s Steve Herman, on the ground in Fukushima, says the evacuation radius around the plant has been expanded to 20km. It had originally been 3km, before being widened to 10km. And now 20km.
3/12 2:20am PT: Three latest updates from BBC’s live online coverage…
1016: The BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin says he understands the blast at the nuclear plant may have been caused by a hydrogen explosion – also one of the possibilities laid out by Walt Patterson of Chatham House. “If nuclear fuel rods overheat and then come into contact with water, this produces a large amount of highly-flammable hydrogen gas which can then ignite,” our correspondent says.1011: More from Walt Patterson of Chatham House. He says the presence of the radioactive caesium in the surrounding area does not pose a huge threat to public health in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. “What would be serious is if there was an explosion or fire that lifted this stuff high in the air, meaning it could get carried over a wide area.”
1009: “This is starting to look a lot like Chernobyl” Walt Patterson, an associate fellow with Chatham House, has told the BBC after seeing pictures of the explosion at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. “The nuclear agency says that they have detected caesium and iodine outside the unit, which certainly indicates fuel melting at the very least,” he says. “Once you have melting fuel coming into contact with water, that would almost certainly be the cause of the explosion.”
3/12 2:30am: Stratfor analysis describes the situation as “Red Alert”, but notes while a meltdown may have occurred, it does “not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster” — before then going on, as the BBC expert noted above did, to compare the situation to Chernobyl…
A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous. A meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster. As long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the core breaches but the containment facility built around the core remains intact, the melted fuel can still be dealt with — typically entombed within specialized concrete — but the cost and difficulty of such containment increases exponentially.However, the earthquake in Japan, in addition to damaging the ability of the control rods to regulate the fuel — and the reactor’s coolant system — appears to have damaged the containment facility, and the explosion almost certainly did.
At this point, events in Japan bear many similarities to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Reports indicate that up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of the reactor fuel was exposed. The reactor fuel appears to have at least partially melted, and the subsequent explosion has shattered the walls and roof of the containment vessel — and likely the remaining useful parts of the control and coolant systems.
And so now the question is simple: Did the floor of the containment vessel crack? If not, the situation can still be salvaged by somehow re-containing the nuclear core. But if the floor has cracked, it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through the floor of the containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before but has always been the nightmare scenario for a nuclear power event — in this scenario, containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible.
They also note the — seemingly obvious — political angle…
Of course, didn’t they also say the BP oil spill would “deal a severe blow to advocates” of off-shore drilling?
3/12 3:21am PT: Russia Today’s video of the explosion. Appears to be same as BBC’s (as linked in the 2:05am PT update above), though embeddable and without the BBC commentary, unfortunately…
3/12 3:28am PT: Expert on Fox “News”, Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, when asked what makes this the “second worst nuclear disaster in history”, answers: “Three Miles Island never got to this phase. We’re much closer to meltdown than we were at Three Mile Island.” Goes on to compare to Chernobyl, like so many others late tonight.
Cirincione continues: “If there’s no meltdown, well then, we’ve dodged a nuclear bullet and there won’t be anything for Japan or the U.S. to have to worry about.”
3/12 4:46am PT: Via NPR’s blog…
Government spokesman Yukio Edano, the Associated Press writes, “says the radiation around the plant did not rise after the blast — but instead is decreasing. He added that pressure in the reactor was also decreasing. Pressure and heat have been building at the nuclear reactor since an earthquake and tsunami Friday caused its cooling system to fail.”
3/12 4:51am PT: Noriyuki Shikata, Dir. of Communitions for Prime Minister tweets what would be good news, under the presumption that it’s accurate:
Blast was caused by accumulated hydrogen combined with oxygen in the space between container and outer structure. No damage to container.
3/12 5:39am PT: Okay…Running on fumes, and fresh news seems to have finally slowed down again for the moment. So, am going to try to stand down again — with the caution that when I tried to do so on Thursday night, the earthquake hit. Then when I tried tonight before midnight, the EXPLOSION happened and I had to return to my post here. If I don’t cause any more disasters when trying again to sleep, I’ll return in West Coast “morn” to pick up as needed…Please feel free to leave anything new in comments below!…
From BradBlog’s March 11 post:
We’ve been updating this item all day and night — having started the earlier this afternoon — as events have developed…See bottom for latest updates through the EXPLOSION which has 3/12/11 1am PT.
We are now moving the UPDATES as of the EXPLOSION to a new item here…
* * *This now deserves its own item — as I’ve feared it has since last night’s cryptic official comments — so I’ve broken off the UPDATES from the previous item, concerning the nuclear emergency declared at Fukushima in the wake of last night’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan to this item, dedicated to the nuke issues.
We asked, snarkily, at the end of the original item earlier today: “Nuclear Energy for America: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
We may be learning exactly that tonight, as radiation levels are reported to be 1000 times normal levels; “emergency” declarations now exist for two plants — Fukushima Daiichi plant on east coast, 200 miles north of Tokyo and the Fukushima Daiichi complex — with a total of five reactors said to be at risk; evacuations around the plants have been expanded to 10km; and, as one of the experts has said (and several others have concurred), “the possibility of some sort of core meltdown” exists.
If there was nothing to worry about here, it seems that officials would be saying that over and over. They are not.
So, the original UPDATES to the earlier item, and the additional ones we’ve added throughout the day, all follow below — with new UPDATES, and what seems to be the increasingly bad news, including two nuclear experts who have just appeared on Rachel Maddow moments ago saying the more they hear, the less assured they are that things are safe — all added to the bottom of the article, where we’ll continue to update as warranted.
We’re also continue to tweet quick updates and links via: @TheBradBlog.
* * *UPDATE 12:41pm PT: More details here on the “Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima”. The article is already outdated, however, as the 2km evacuation has just now been expanded to 10km by the Japanese Prime Minister, according to tweets from VOA’s Asian Bureau Chief Steve Herman who adds: “Officials now saying radiation at Fukushima nuke plant 1,000X normal level.” (BBC report on levels.)
Herman adds Kyodo is reporting “This suggests radioactive steam could spread around the facility.”
Really not good.
UPDATE: 2:41pm PT: CNN has an update now, including an expert who says, “If they can’t restore power to the plant (and cool the reactor), then there’s the possibility of some sort of core meltdown.”
Key excerpts now follow below…
Tokyo (CNN) — A mammoth earthquake and subsequent tsunami may have caused radioactive material to leak from an atomic power plant in northeast Japan, a major electric company said Saturday, according to a news agency report.Citing the Tokyo Electric Power Co., Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said that radioactive substances may have seeped out of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of Tokyo. Earlier, the agency had reported that authorities may purposefully release radioactive vapor to alleviate pressure at the power plant.
Radiation levels measured at a monitoring post near the plant’s main gate are more than eight times above normal, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said, according to Kyodo.
Most of the concern has centered around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters on Friday “remains at a high temperature” because it “cannot cool down.”
The company said that it plans to take steps to “reduce the pressure of the reactor.”
The government said earlier that it was sending senior officials and the defense force’s Chemical Corps to the Fukushima power plant, according to the Kyodo News Agency.
The same agency later reported that authorities may release some radioactive steam in order to alleviate pressure at the reactor.
The IAEA, the international nuclear organization, said Friday that its officials are “in full response mode,” as they worked with Japanese authorities and monitor the situation.
Using Air Force planes, the U.S. government has sent over coolant for the Fukushima plant, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
James Acton, a physicist who examined the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant after a 2007 earthquake, told CNN that Japanese authorities are in a race to cool down the Fukushima reactor.
“If they can’t restore power to the plant (and cool the reactor), then there’s the possibility of some sort of core meltdown,” he said.
UPDATE 5:41pm PT: Earlier today from LATimes…
The news doesn’t seem any better from USAToday late tonight…
Japanese authorities are venting radioactive steam into the air after the earthquake on Friday critically damaged a nuclear reactor at Fukushima Daiichi plant.The Japanese government on Friday declared a nuclear emergency at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station after the reactor’s cooling system failed. The government ordered thousands of people living within 6 miles of the plant to evacuate. Early Saturday, it declared a nuclear emergency at a second power plant where a cooling system had also failed.
“It has the potential to be catastrophic,” said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, and a former senior policy adviser to the Energy Secretary during the Clinton administration.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the amount of radioactivity in vapor would be “very small” and would not harm people or the environment.
“With evacuation in place and the ocean-bound wind, we can ensure the safety,” he said at a news conference early Saturday.
The venting may relieve some pressure and give workers more time to restore the emergency cooling systems. They have a 12- to 24-hour window, Alvarez said.
“I don’t think the venting is going to result in a catastrophic release, but it’s definitely an indication that all is not well there,” he said.
If the cooling is not restored quickly, the core can overheat, causing the water to boil over and exposing the core to air. The interior can catch fire and cause a meltdown, releasing nuclear material into the concrete containment dome that surrounds the reactor, Alvarez says.
“Is this barrier going to be sufficient?” Alvarez said. “It’s a dicey proposition. The best you can say is, stay tuned.”
If they re-establish a stable power supply and restore the cooling, “We should all breathe a sigh of relief,” Alvarez said. “If they can’t, it’s very serious.”
5:58pm PT: From AP…
TOKYO — Japan declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake. Thousands of residents were evacuated as workers struggled to get the reactors under control to prevent meltdowns.Operators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s Unit 1 scrambled ferociously to tamp down heat and pressure inside the reactor after the 8.9 magnitude quake and the tsunami that followed cut off electricity to the site and disabled emergency generators, knocking out the main cooling system.
Some 3,000 people within two miles (three kilometers) of the plant were urged to leave their homes, but the evacuation zone was more than tripled to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) after authorities detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1’s control room.
The government declared a state of emergency at the Daiichi unit – the first at a nuclear plant in Japan’s history. But hours later, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the six-reactor Daiichi site, announced that it had lost cooling ability at a second reactor there and three units at its nearby Fukushima Daini site.
The government quickly declared states of emergency for those units, too, and thousands of residents near Fukushima Daini also were told to leave.
Despite plans for the intentional release of radioactivity, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the 40-year-old plant was not leaking radiation.
“With evacuation in place and the ocean-bound wind, we can ensure the safety,” Edano said at a televised news conference early Saturday.
It was unclear if the elevation of radioactivity around the reactor was known at the time he spoke.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who runs a disaster preparedness institute at Columbia University, said the reported level of radiation outside the plant would not pose an immediate danger, though it could lift the rate of thyroid cancer in a population over time.
However, he called the reported level inside the plant extraordinarily high, raising a concern about acute health effects. “I would personally absolutely not want to be inside,” he said.
Technical experts said the plant would presumably have hours, but probably not days, to try to stabilize things.
It also was not immediately clear how closely the reactor had moved toward dangerous pressure or temperature levels. If temperatures were to keep rising to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it could set off a chemical reaction that begins to embrittle the metallic zirconium that sheathes the radioactive uranium fuel.
That reaction releases hydrogen, which can explode when cooling water finally floods back into the reactor. That was also concern for a time during the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.
If the reactor temperature keeps reaches around 4,000 degrees, the fuel could melt outright, and the reactor could slump right into the bottom of the containment building in a partial meltdown. Then the crucial question would be whether the building would stay intact.
“The last line of defense is that containment – and that’s got to hold,” Gundersen said. If it doesn’t, the radioactive load inside the reactor can pour out into the surroundings.
As one of the most seismically active countries in the world, Japan has strict sets of regulations designed to limit the impact of quakes on nuclear power plants. These standards call for building plants on solid bedrock to reduce shaking.
Even so, 10 of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors were shut down because of the quake, and Tokyo Electric Power said it had to reduce power generation. Japan gets about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
One, perhaps, “positive” point in the AP article: “Mobile electricity supplies” have arrived at the Daiichi plant. Electricity, they say, it’s what’s needed now to cool down the reactors, presuming it’s not too late.
And on Rachel Maddow just now, an expert concurred that he is feeling less good about the situation, the more that he is hearing about it…
6:42pm PT: Another expert on Maddow, Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, says: “We have never seen something like this. We have never seen multiple reactors at risk. … This could be a technological catastrophe.”
7:23pm PT: Reuters via Twitter: “FLASH: Japan PM says minute amounts of radiation released from Fukushima plant: Kyodo” — “Minute”, eh?…
7:31pm PT: Washington Post confirms “state of emergency…for five nuclear reactors at two quake-struck power plants as military and utility officials scrambled to tame rising pressure and radioactivity levels inside the units and stabilize the facilities used to cool the plants’ hot reactor cores.”
They also present some conflicting info to previous reports of restored electricity: “The utility said it had restored power from the grid, but the IAEA said power was restored from ‘mobile electricity supplies.'”
Doesn’t instill confidence, frankly.
7:55pm PT: Leak confirmed. Story posted at CNN minutes ago…
Tokyo (CNN) — Reactors at two Japanese power plants can no longer cool radioactive substances, a government official said Saturday, adding that a small leak had been detected at one of the facilities.Atomic material has seeped out of one of the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s five nuclear reactors, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of Tokyo, said Kazuo Kodama, a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency.
9:07pm PT: Most recent announcement from IAEA on Fukushima is now 7 hours old. No newer news on 5 nuclear reactor emergencies, IAEA???
9:21pm PT: Oy. Reuters via Twitter: “FLASH: #Japan nuclear authorities say high possibility of meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor – Jiji”
9:31pm PT: AP’s Tomoko Hosaka confirms: “Japan nuclear safety commission official says meltdown at nuclear power plant possible”
9:37pm PT: Looks like it’s either about to meltdown, or already is doing so…
TimeOutTokyo from Kyodo: “Reports coming in: cesium detected around the nuclear reactor 1 (Fukushima), which is one of the elements that gets released in a meltdown”
Asia editor of The Times, Richard Lloyd Parry via Twitter:: “Nuclear expert tells The Times: meltdown has technically begun at Fukushima.” … “Fukushima fel cores are melting at 2000C and dropping onto steel floor. Steel melts at 1500C. Could still be brought under control, but … Four other Fukushima nuke reactors are struggling with similar problem. If multiple meltdown begins, it will be uncontrollable.”
9:47pm PT: More from The Times editor’s Twitter feed: “Japan faces serious chance of nuclear disaster to rival Three Mile Island. At least, J nuke program is set back years, possibly scuttled.” … “If there is full scale Fukushima meltdown current evac zone 10km is inadequate. 30km at least needed.”
VOA’s Steve Herman has somewhat (?) conflicting report from AP: “AP quotes experts saying if nuke meltdown, risk zone is 6km radius.”
9:53pm PT: From bad to worse, it looks like. This from NHK World (via Rachel Maddow):
Venting air from reactor container suspendedThe operation at Fukushima No.1 plant to lower pressure of the containment vessel has been suspended due to high radiation levels at the site.
Pressure of the reactor container is rising as its cooling system became dysfunctional due to a blackout and power generator breakdown. This has raised concern about possible damage to the container.
The power station’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, began to vent air from the reactor container at 9AM on Saturday.
Under the plan, 2 valves close to the container would be opened manually, but radiation level on the second valve was found higher than expected.
The operation has been suspended because of the possibility that workers could be exposed to radiation. The utility is reportedly studying how to open the valve by replacing workers at a short interval, or using electric remote control.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says if radioactive substance is released in the air, safety of residents evacuated beyond a 10-kilometer radius from the No.1 reactor will be ensured.
Saturday, March 12, 2011 13:09 +0900 (JST)
10:01pm PT: Some not as bad news? Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times again: “Another expert on NHK counsels caution, says Fukushima partial nuke meltdown is controllable, current evacuation zone is adequate.”
REMINDER: I’m able to cover more, quickly via Twitter. Follow here if you wish: @TheBradBlog.
10:21pm PT: From NBC…
TOKYO — An official with Japan’s nuclear safety commission says that a meltdown at a nuclear power plant affected by the country’s massive earthquake is possible.Ryohei Shiomi said Saturday that officials were checking whether a meltdown had taken place at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which had lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake.
Shiomi said that even if there was a meltdown, it wouldn’t affect humans outside a six-mile (10-kilometer) radius.
10:46pm PT: IAEA finally offers fresh update. First in eight hours or so. Not much new info there, however, it seems.
11:00pm PT: Meltdown politics. As the discussion has come up in comments here, Reuters just in with this: “Analysis: Nuclear power growth at risk if Japan plant leaks”
11:26pm PT: CNN reports on air: “Japanese nuclear power spokesman says small amount of cesium leaked into air around plant. Strong possibility it was caused by the melting of a fuel rod.”
11:34pm PT: Must stand down for the night (though may be able to tweet a bit longer at @TheBradBlog). Recommend you follow Steve Herman (@W7VOA), Voice of America’s Asian editor, whose just landed at Fukushima. He should have key reports from on the ground there.