SDF choppers drop water at troubled Fukushima nuke plant

SDF choppers drop water at troubled Fukushima nuke plant

1:53 PM, 8th June 2011
SDF choppers drop water at troubled Fukushima nuke plant

TOKYO, JAPAN: Self-Defense Forces helicopters dropped water Thursday morning on the troubled No 3 reactor of the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant in an attempt to cool down its apparently overheating fuel pool to prevent it from emitting highly contaminated radioactive materials.

 

The unprecedented operation is expected to gain force on the ground later in the day as Tokyo police prepare to spray water with a water cannon truck, with the focus of the nuclear crisis shifting to the pools storing spent fuel rods at each of the quake-hit plant’s six reactors, located outside the steel containment vessels for enclosing toxic radioactive substances.

 

The fuel pools also lost their cooling functions as well as the plant’s three operating reactors and the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co has been unable to monitor the water level and temperature, nor pour water at four of them.

 

The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has said the first priority should be pouring water into the pools at the No 3 and 4 reactors, which may be boiling and are not fully covered by roofs that would reduce any radiation leaks, since they were blown off by apparent hydrogen blasts earlier this week.

 

A rise in the temperature, usually at 40 C, causes water to reduce and expose the spent nuclear fuel rods, which could heat up further and melt and discharge highly intense radioactive materials in the worse case, experts say.

 

On Wednesday, a massive cloud believed to be steam rose from the No 3 reactor and a second fire in two days broke out at the No 4 reactor, suggesting rising temperatures at their fuel pools.

 

The Defense Ministry had given up Wednesday on the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force helicopters due to high radiation levels.

 

Tokyo Electric, meanwhile, is planning to install a temporary electric power source in a bid to recover the function of pumps that send water to the reactor cores and pools, with an official saying the plan has a “high potential” to be successful.

 

Power supply to the plant may partially resume in the afternoon, following its suspension in the aftermath of the magnitude 9.0 quake, the government nuclear safety agency said.

 

Also, the US military is poised to operate a Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, possibly on Thursday, to take images of the inside of the building that houses the No 4 reactor, according to Japanese government sources.

 

Among the six reactors at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear plant, the buildings housing the reactors have been destroyed by apparent hydrogen blasts at the No 1, No 3 and No 4 reactors, and the No 2 reactor's containment vessel suffered damage in its pressure-suppression chamber at the bottom.

 

Although the No 1, No 2 and No 3 reactors that were operating at the time of the quake halted automatically with jolts, their cores are believed to have melted as they lost cooling functions in an ensuing tsunami. An estimated 70 per cent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No 1 reactor and 33 per cent at the No 2 reactor, Tokyo Electric said Wednesday.

 

The water level has also dropped in the fuel pool at the No 5 reactor, posing the risk of overheating, according to the nuclear safety agency. The No 4, No 5 and No 6 reactors have had fuel rods taken out of their cores for regular checks.

 

The government has set the evacuation zone covering areas within a 20 kilometer radius of the plant, and urged people within 20 km to 30 km to stay indoors. Also the radiation levels remain unchanged inspite of the helicopters dousing water, TEPCO informed.

© Kyodo News Agency


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