Japan's Nuclear Crisis: Fuel Rods Exposed Once Again, Releases of Radioactive Steam Could Go on for Months

In the aftermath of last week's massive and devastating earthquake in Japan, there have been scores of conflicting reports, even from Japan's own government agencies, about the stability of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. What we know for sure is that the plant has experienced two separate explosions (which may or may not have been expected) and that at least some amount of radioactive steam has been let out of the plant in an effort to avoid a complete nuclear meltdown.

According to Al Jazeera, Japan's cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, has said that "a partial meltdown is likely underway at three of the four reactors at Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant." There is some discrepancy among experts about what the term "partial meltdown" means, but the cabinet secretary noted specifically that rods in reactors 1, 2, and 3 appear to be melting following exposure caused by a lack of water.

Meanwhile, the nuclear fuel rods in reactor 2 have been exposed once again. Officials are scrambling to get normal water flow back to the plant (the earthquake caused massive damage to the pipes and local water system) and to bring sea water in as a stop-gap measure.

Al Jazeera is also reporting that the government has distributed some 230,000 doses of anti-radiation iodine to evacuation centers (not directly to residents), while some 185,000 residents have been evacuated from the area surrounding the plant, per the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.

Here are some additional updates from around the Web:

The New York Times reports that "radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months," and that "tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated may not be able to return to their homes for a considerable period" since shifts in wind patterns could carry radioactive material straight into Japan's cities.

Scientific American has a chilling account of what the worst-case scenario at Fukushima would look like, according to nuclear experts.

U.S. Congressmen Joe Lieberman and Ed Markey have both appeared in the mediaexpressing concern over the U.S.'s future with nuclear power in the wake of this Japanese disaster. Quoth Lieberman on Face the Nation yesterday: "We don't know where it's going with regard to the nuclear power plants in Japan right now. I think it calls on us here in the U.S. -- naturally not to stop building nuclear power plants, but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happened in Japan." Given that most U.S. nuclear power plants are the same type that are used in Japan, Markey noted in a letter to President Obama that he is "concerned that it appears that no agency sees itself as clearly in command of emergency response in a nuclear disaster."

Speaking of dangers in the U.S., Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione said in an interview with Chris Wallace over the weekend that the radiation from the Japanese plant could make its way to the States.

And professional idiot Haley Barbour allowed his staff to make a crass joke about the situation; an "on this day in 1968" email from Barbour's press secretary said, "Otis Redding posthumously received a gold record for his single, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay". (Not a big hit in Japan right now.)" (Honestly, how have the words "president" and "Barbour" even been uttered in the same sentence?)

Disaster experts in Japan are saying that the next 48 hours will be critical in finding survivors of the country's twin disasters: earthquake and tsunami. According to the Times, the death toll could be as high as 10,000.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at March 14, 2011, 6:39am

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