Daily Archives: March 15, 2011

‘Worst-case scenario’: Fallout from Japan nuclear meltdown could reach U.S. West Coast

Potential consequences: How a full-scale meltdown could affect the U.S. by flying across the Pacific Ocean

‘Worst-case scenario’ could send nuclear cloud across Pacific

30,000ft winds would carry radioactive material across the ocean

U.S.S. Ronald Reagan hit by month’s radiation in just one hour

America on nuclear alert: Could fallout from Japan explosion reach U.S. West Coast?

Daily Mail | Mar 14, 2011

Fears that America could be hit by the nuclear fallout from the Japan earthquake dramatically increased today after the reactor hit by the tsunami went into ‘meltdown’.

Officials revealed fuel rods are melting inside three damaged reactors at the Fukushima plant, triggering fears of a serious radiation leak.

Scientists in the U.S. warned today of a ‘worst-case scenario’ in which the highly radioactive material could be blasted into the atmosphere and blown towards the West Coast of America.

They said it could be picked up by powerful 30,000ft winds, carrying the debris across the Pacific and hitting America within four days.

Earthquake-hit Japan is fighting to avoid a nuclear catastrophe as one over-heating reactor lost its cooling today, following explosions at two other reactors at the Fukushima plant.

Leading nuclear expert Dr John Large, who has visited the plant, said he is concerned that where the radiation ends up is ‘in the lap of the gods’.

‘The exclusion zone keeps being raised. First it was 3km, then 10, now 20. This plant has gone through all the steps that occurred at Three Mile Island, and that led to total meltdown.

‘It looks like the reactors automatically shut down following the earthquake, causing a massive collapse of power to the grid,’ he told the Sunday Express.

Others have suggested any radioactive cloud would be likely to blow out east across the Pacific.

‘The wind direction for the time being seems to point the (nuclear) pollution towards the Pacific,’ Andre-Claude Lacoste, of the French Nuclear Safety Authority, told AFP.

A second explosion rocked the nuclear plant today, sending smoke into the air. The blast follows a similar explosion in another unit on Saturday and a further reactor has also lost its cooling capacity.

But University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Science Dan Jaffe told Q13 Fox earlier: ‘Based on what we’re seeing in terms of the radiation that’s being released now, there is no risk at all.

‘Even in the worst case scenario there is a low likelihood of much risk over the Pacific Northwest.’

Nuclear regulators say the General Electric-designed reactors involved in the emergency are very similar to 23 reactors used in the U.S, reported MSNBC.

‘The worst case scenario is that the fuel rods fuse together,’ nuclear expert Joe Cirincione said.

‘The temperatures get so hot that they melt together into a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechanisms and it is exposed to the outside so there’s spewed radioactivity into the ground, into the air and into the water,’ he told Fox 43.

‘Some of that radioactivity could carry in the atmosphere to the West Coast of the United States.’

Full Story

Tokyo governor apologises for calling tsunami ‘divine punishment’

Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara, who called the tsunami ‘divine punishment’. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Shintaro Ishihara said tsunami was retribution for ‘egoism’ of Japanese people

guardian.co.uk | Mar 15, 2011

by Justin McCurry in Osaka

The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has apologised after suggesting that the tsunami that has so far claimed at least 3,000 lives was “divine punishment” for the “egoism” of the Japanese people.

Ishihara, a conservative who will seek a fourth consecutive term as governor next month, retracted the remarks and offered a “deep apology”.

The 78-year-old, who has a history of making offensive remarks, apologised after a rebuke from the governor of Miyagi prefecture, where the death toll is expected to climb to at least 10,000.

On Monday, Ishihara said: “Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism. We need to use the tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has attached itself like rust to the mentality of the Japanese people over a long period of time.”

He went on to describe the disaster as “tembatsu” – divine punishment – but added: “I do feel sorry for the victims.”

Ishihara is not the only public figure to have offered unhinged explanations for the disaster.

The rightwing radio talk show host and TV presenter Glenn Beck said the earthquake could be a “message from God”.

Speaking on his radio show on Monday, Beck said: “I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes,” but added: “I’m not not saying that either.”

Beck, whose ultra-conservative rants and conspiracy theories have triggered speculation that he will be dumped by Fox News this year, said: “There’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’ I’m just saying.”

Other hosts were guilty of getting their priorities badly wrong. The CNBC host Larry Kudlow was discussing the tsunami’s impact on US markets last Friday when a screen graphic signalled the death toll was likely to exceed 1,000.

“The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that,” Kudlow said, quickly adding: “The human toll is a tragedy; we know that. But these markets, all these markets – stocks, commodities, oil, gold – there is no major breakout or breakdown.”

He later apologised on Twitter: “I did not mean to say human toll in Japan less important than economic toll. Talking about markets. I flubbed the line. Sincere apology.”

‘Family Guy’ writer apologizes for Pearl Harbor-quake joke

Agence France-Presse | Mar 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — A writer for the U.S. animated comedy program “Family Guy” has apologized after a joke linking Japan’s massive quake-tsunami disaster to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a message on Twitter about Friday’s earthquake, scriptwriter Alec Sulkin wrote: “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll.’”

The reference to imperial Japan’s sneak attack on U.S. forces in Hawaii, which killed around 2,500 people, set off a storm of criticism over the Internet.

Sulkin apologized on Sunday and deleted the message, explaining that he wrote it when he believed the death toll was lower.

“Yesterday death toll 200. Today 10,000. I am sorry for my insensitive tweet. It’s gone,” he wrote.

He then quipped: “If you wanna feel better about the floods in New Jersey, google ‘MTV’s Jersey Shore,’” a reference to the popular reality television show which is often the butt of jokes.

“Family Guy,” an animinated series about an American family, is known for its controversial humor including story lines about incest.

Radiation fears prompt Tokyo exodus

Passengers queuing at Haneda Airport in Tokyo as airlines in Europe and Asia said they were suspending flights to the Japanese capital. Photograph: EPA

International companies pulling staff out and airlines cancelling flights after two more explosions at Fukushima plant

guardian.co.uk | Mar 15, 2011

by Justin McCurry in Osaka

Airlines from Asia and Europe have halted flights into Tokyo, while multinational firms made plans to relocate employees as anxiety continued to grip Japan over the nuclear crisis.

Despite official reassurances that radiation levels in the capital posed no threat to health, a steady stream of tourists, residents and expatriates left the capital by plane and bullet train. Austria said it was moving its embassy out of Tokyo to the western city of Osaka.

Setbacks in the struggle to avert disaster at an atomic power plant in the north-east of the country also sparked a fresh round of panic-buying in the Japanese capital, where tiny amounts of radioactivity registered for the first time since last Friday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

People in Tokyo endured another day of anxiety as they heard that the plant had been rocked by two more explosions and evidence emerged that water in a pool storing spent fuel rods may be boiling.

Tokyo is already experiencing serious disruption to its transport network after Tepco, the city’s electricity supplier, decided to implement rolling power cuts triggered by disruption to power generation by the disaster.

“I’m not that worried about another earthquake – it’s the radiation that scares me,” said Masashi Yoshida, who was waiting for a flight out of Haneda airport with his five-year-old daughter.

Those among Tokyo’s 12 million people who decided to stay snapped up batteries, torches, candles and sleeping bags, and stripped shelves of bread, bottled water, instant noodles and canned food.

The hoarding, partly prompted by the prospect of regular power cuts over the next six weeks, threatens to hamper efforts to divert supplies to the quake zone, where millions are suffering food and water shortages.

Scientists said radiation levels near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where more than 200,000 people have been evacuated or told to stay inside, posed no immediate threat to the capital, which is 150 miles to the south.

Naoto Kan, the prime minister, urged 140,000 people living within 19 miles of the plant to remain indoors. About 70,000 people living within 12 miles have already been evacuated. “I know that people are very worried, but I would like to ask you to stay calm,” Kan said.

“Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to humans, because it will be dissipated by the time it gets there,” said Koji Yamazaki, a professor of environmental science at Hokkaido University on Japan’s main north island.

Prolonged fears of a serious accident could weaken Tokyo’s role as an international financial hub. Several firms said they were pulling staff out, including 350 Indian employees of the software services exporter Infosys Systems.

But big financial firms in Japan were going about their “business as usual”, said the International Bankers Association, which represents firms such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.

The French embassy advised its citizens to leave and the German embassy advised people with families to do the same. China is poised to evacuate its nationals from badly affected areas of north-east Japan.

Several international airlines said they would avoid Tokyo until they were certain the danger had passed. Lufthansa became the first European airline to announce its daily flights to Tokyo would switch to Osaka and Nagoya at least until the weekend, and Air China cancelled flights from Beijing and Shanghai.

Taiwan’s EVA Airways said it would not fly to Tokyo and Sapporo for the rest of the month. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic said services to Narita and Haneda, Tokyo’s main airports, were not affected.
Causes of concern

The Fukushima engineers’ main priorities now are to cool the three overheating reactors by pumping seawater into them and to ensure that water levels in the storage pools do not fall low enough to expose the spent fuel rods.

In the best-case scenario, the storage pools do not overheat and engineers manage to pump cold seawater into the damaged reactors over the coming days and gradually bring them down to a safe temperature, when they can be put into cold storage.

In a more worrying scenario, cooling at any or all of the reactors fails to prevent the nuclear cores from going into a meltdown. At very high temperatures, the core could melt through the containment system and cause an explosion inside the building. If that explosion damaged the outer containment structure, which is made of steel-lined reinforced concrete, radiation from the reactor could escape into the environment. In this scenario, one option would be to seal the whole reactor with lead and concrete.

Another scenario causing concern involves the storage pools, because they do not have containment systems to stop radiation leaking from them. Because the cooling systems have failed, the storage pools have started to heat up. If they boil dry, the fuel rods will be exposed and could potentially release vast amounts of radiation directly into the environment.

Radiation plume could reach Tokyo: U.S. scientists

The No.3 nuclear reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is seen burning after a blast following an earthquake and tsunami in this handout satellite image taken March 14, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Digital Globe/Handout

Reuters | Mar 15, 2011

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If the containment at the nuclear power plant damaged by Japan’s devastating earthquake fails, a potential radiation plume from a full core meltdown could reach Tokyo, a U.S. scientists’ organization said on Tuesday.

Japan faces a potential catastrophe after a stricken nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also said a “jerry-rigged” cooling system at the Japanese plant would be hard to maintain if all workers there were evacuated.

Nuclear power and safety experts at the group said they were “very concerned” that ongoing activities at the plant would become more challenging for on-site workers. A larger radiation plume could travel hundreds of miles (km), the scientists said in a telephone briefing.

A crack in the containment vessel could allow radiation to exit the reactor in case of a core meltdown, the scientists said. They said the Japanese government should extend the evacuation zone around the troubled Fukushima Daiichi power station.

Japan crisis: third explosion raises spectre of nuclear nightmare

Fukushima reactor one, bottom left, was the first to explode on Saturday and reactor three, top right, exploded yesterday  Photo: AP

New explosion at Fukushima plant, as engineers fought to prevent a meltdown in the second worst nuclear accident in history.

Telegraph| Mar 14, 2011

By Gordon Rayner and Martin Evans

The Japanese nuclear safety agency says explosion heard at Unit 2 of Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Earlier a cloud of radioactive dust billowed from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant after it suffered its second explosion in three days.

Government officials admitted that it was “highly likely” the fuel rods in three separate reactors had started to melt despite repeated efforts to cool them with sea water. Safety officials said they could not rule out a full meltdown as workers struggled to keep temperatures under control in the cores of the reactors.

The Fukushima crisis now rates as a more serious accident than the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, and is second only to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, according to the French nuclear safety authority. After insisting for three days that the situation was under control, Japan urgently appealed to US and UN nuclear experts for technical help on preventing white-hot fuel rods melting.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was “unlikely” that the accident would turn into another Chernobyl, but failed to rule it out completely.

More than 500,000 people are thought to have been made homeless by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, which is estimated to have killed at least 10,000. More than 2,000 bodies have been washed up on beaches along Japan’s Pacific coast, but rescuers have yet to reach isolated towns and villages in some of the worst-affected areas.

The tragedy is expected to become the costliest natural disaster in history, with the repair bill likely to top £100 billion.

The economic impact was already being felt around the world yesterday as a 6.2 per cent fall in the Nikkei share

index triggered significant losses on stock markets elsewhere. In London, the FTSE-100 fell by almost one per cent over the course of the day, wiping £15 billion off the value of shares.

David Cameron said there were “severe concerns” for a number of Britons living in the disaster zone who have still not been in touch with their families. The Foreign Office said its emergency helpline had received 4,700 calls from people worried about relations, but had no confirmed reports of British casualties.

Fears of a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power station, 150 miles north of Tokyo, grew significantly after yesterday morning’s explosion at its No 3 reactor. The blast injured 11 workers and released as much radiation in an hour as would normally be expected in six months. It exposed up to 160 people to high doses, and 22 received treatment for radiation poisoning.

Like the explosion in the No 1 reactor on Saturday, the problem was caused by a build-up of hydrogen released from water surrounding the reactor as temperatures rose above 2,200C.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan later detected increased radiation 100 miles off the coast of Japan and weather forecasters said that the wind direction would change overnight, blowing the radioactive cloud inland. Scientists said it did not pose a health risk.

Seventeen US helicopter crewmen helping with the relief effort were exposed to levels equivalent to one month’s normal background radiation, but were declared free of contamination after being scrubbed down.

As technicians tried to contain the temperatures inside all three reactors at the plant, there were warnings of a possible third explosion as fuel rods inside the No 2 reactor became fully exposed.

Workers managed to pump enough seawater into the reactor to cover the rods, but they became partly exposed last night. Ryohei Shiomi, an official at Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the rods in all three reactors appeared to be melting.

“Units one and three are at least somewhat stabilised for the time being,” he said. “Unit two now requires all our effort and attention.”

Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said it was “highly likely” that the fuel rods were melting.

In the event of a complete meltdown, where the uranium core melts through the outer containment shell, high levels of radiation would be released into the environment, a major risk to health.

Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the nuclear safety authority in France, the world’s second-largest producer of nuclear power, said the accident was now “worse than Three Mile Island but not as great as Chernobyl”. The partial meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979 was rated five out of seven on an international scale, with Chernobyl put at seven.

While Japan’s nuclear safety agency rates Fukushima as level four, Mr Lacoste said: “We have the feeling that we are at least more than level five and probably at level six. I say this after speaking to my Japanese counterparts.”

Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said it was “very unlikely” to turn into an accident similar to Chernobyl as “the design is different and the structure is different”, making the reactors far safer. But local residents remained distrustful of official assurances, following accusations of cover-ups in the past.

Kyoko Nambu, whose home was destroyed by the tsunami, said: “It’s like a horror movie. Our house is gone and now they are telling us to stay indoors.

“We can see the damage to our houses, but radiation? We have no idea what is happening. I am so scared.”

Around the world, Germany and Switzerland reacted by suspending plans for new reactors. Italy and Poland said they would rethink plans to invest in nuclear energy, and Friends of the Earth urged the British government to scrap its own plans for new reactors.

Andy Atkins, the campaign group’s executive director, said: “We can’t keep heading down the nuclear route until the lessons from this crisis have been learnt.”