Has Fukushima 1 gone from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl?

Opinion-Editorial by Albert N. Milliron

March 12, 2011

Information coming from the regulatory authorities at the Fukushima-Daiichi 1 nuclear power plant in Japan is beginning to become worrisome.  Crisis managers have increased the exclusion zone around the Nuclear power plant for the third time in two days to a distance of 20 kilometers about 12.5 miles. Authorities are also limiting unofficial motor vehicle traffic to almost forty kilometers from the plant. The exclusion zone perimeter is frighteningly similar to the limitations placed around the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant following it’s partial meltdown in 1986.

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier on Saturday fifty-one thousand people were evacuated from a twenty kilometer area around the power plant as a “precautionary measure”. Potassium iodide tablets were distributed while individuals were being evacuated from the area. Conflicting reports said that 160 individuals were treated for symptoms similar to radiation sickness but, other sources maintained that only three individuals who worked at the nuclear power facility were treated for a radiation like syndrome.

Explaining the inner workings of a Nuclear reactor is, well, rocket science. The process goes a bit like this: following a disaster, like an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, a Nuclear power plant has fail safe measures that automatically activate to protect the environment from being rendered uninhabitable for a very long time. The reactor is supposed to shut itself down, turn on some water pumps with a back-up power source, and run cool water over the hot fuel rods. By doing so the system is shut down and is maintained safely until such time as the reactor can be restarted,

In this case, the fail-safe system did not work correctly and was unable able to reduce the temperature of the fuel rods. Steam began to buildup in the containment area and like a top on a boiling pot the steam looks for a way to escape The best way to do that is to release the steam gradually so as not to cause any type of explosion.

While engineers where working on releasing the excess stream into the atmosphere slowly the gas was ignited and caused an explosion. That explosion caused the outer containment building to be destroyed.

NHK reported that there was no damage done to the reactor core and experts testified that only the outer building materials were damaged by the hydrogen explosion.

The explosion didn’t only do damage to property, it also injured a crane operator, who became immobilized and later died as a result of his injuries. Three other employees and one contractor were hospitalized following injuries obtained during the explosion as well.

As a result of the explosion, radio active gas was released into the atmosphere and that resulted in experts increasing the exclusion area and the amount of people to be evacuated increased significantly. Last night only workers and some three thousand individuals were required to vacate a few kilometer area around the Nuclear plant. Shortly after the media was saying that ten kilometer radius was to be evacuated. Following the explosion the exclusion zone was increased twenty kilometers and fifty-one thousand people were to be evacuated.

When the engineers used  sea water to cover the reactor core,  it became clear that the plant was in dire circumstances.  By using  sea water,  the billion dollar energy production plant would be rendered useless. Within hours,  the exclusion zone was advanced to match the  parameters used following the Chernobyl disaster.  Still the Experts are calling this incident a level 4 event on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Meaning meaning the incident was an accident having local consequences.  Using the same 1-7 level scale devised by the IAEA,  Three Mile Island was a Level 5 event and Chernobyl was a Level 7.

The experts are parading to and from the various news programs that appear each Saturday afternoon on our Hi-Def displays.  Each one presents his or her carefully prepared remarks that have been passed through a crisis management team or a focus group to minimize any potential  anxiety or mass hysteria that could disrupt the common good. Meanwhile this writers internal spin meter is stuck on a full scale reading.  Things just don’t “jive” if one can be simpleton for a moment.  The numbers don’t add up to.  Its not six of one, half dozen of another.  This is a Nuclear reactor that had a gas explosion right before our eyes and the “folks” as saying “move along, nothing to see here”  My inner core is reacting and I hear my inner regulator say that the Japan Nuclear power plant is not like venting of some parts per trillion radioactive gas at  Three Mile Island while kids played in the streets, no it’s more like the total  desolation and emptiness of the  town next to Chernobyl called Prypiat.

Ever hope your own premises and conclusion are a total fallacy?  Today is that day.

Radio New Zealand puts it this way:

Exclusion Zone near quake-hit nuclear plant widened a third time

About 140,000 people have so far been evacuated from areas near two Japanese nuclear power plants, one of which has been damaged in an explosion a day after a massive earthquake.

An 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s northestern coast at 2.46pm on Friday, sending a 10-metre tsunami through towns and cities. More than 1800 people are believed to have died.

The earthquake damaged the cooling system at the 40-year-old Fukushima No. 1 reactor.

An explosion on Saturday blew away the concrete walls and roof of a building at the plant, leaving only the metal framework.

Officials say the blast did not damage the container housing the reactor and that radiation levels had since fallen. Four workers were injured in the blast.

Operators continued to work desperately to reduce pressure in the core of the reactor after earlier releasing what they said was a tiny amount of radioactive steam to reduce the pressure.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the plant, is using sea water as an emergency coolant, public broadcaster NHK says.

At the same plant, another reactor had also lost its emergency cooling system, an official at the Japanese nuclear power safety agency said on Saturday

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said on Sunday that as many as 160 people may have been exposed to radiation. The World Health Organisation has said public health risk from the radiation leak appeared to be “quite low”.

Exclusion zone widened

The government initially told residents within a 10km radius of the Fukushima No. 1 plant they should leave, but has since widened the zone to 20km.

A 10km exclusion zone remains around the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), citing Japanese authorities, said the evacuation hadn’t yet been completed.

Reuters reports that workers at evacuation centers wearing white masks and protective clothing used handheld scanners to check everyone arriving for radiation exposure.

The authorities prepared to distribute iodine to people in the vicinity to protect them from exposure.

Iodine can be used to help protect against thyroid cancer in the case of radioactive exposure in a nuclear accident.

The safety agency has rated the incident at the plant as a 4 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale of 1-7. Three Mile Island was rated 5 while Chernobyl was rated 7.

On Saturday night, a 6.4 aftershock occurred near the nuclear plant, although there were no reports of further damage to the facility.

via Radio New Zealand

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