Spent fuel rods exposed at Fukushima though power could soon be restored

03/16/11 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant says it has almost completed a new power line that could restore electricity to the complex and solve the crisis that has threatened a meltdown.

Meanwhile, Japan has more than doubled the maximum radiation dose allowed for nuclear workers.

Despite the increase, surging radiation levels forced emergency workers to temporarily withdraw from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant today, losing time in their struggle to cool overheating fuel.

Speaking through a translator on NHK, Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano says radiation may be leaking at the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

" '...' a part of the containment vessel is broken and it seems like the vapor is coming out from there. It appears to be that vapor is coming out from the broken part."

Tyson Slocum, who is energy program director at the group Public Citizen, says it's an uphill battle to get a grip on the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

"The technicians are doing a valiant effort to try and maintain critical temperatures but without the backup power systems their efforts are extremely challenging."

The crisis in Japan has led governments around the world to question nuclear power. President Hugo Chavez says the problems at Japan's nuclear plants have prompted him to halt Venezuela's plans to develop nuclear energy. China's Cabinet says the government will suspend approvals for nuclear power stations to allow for a revision in safety standards. Spain will review the safety of its six nuclear power plants. The lower house of the French Parliament questioned nuclear industry executives about the safety of the nation's nuclear plants in an emergency session.

In a conference call with reporters, Ira Helfand, past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said there should be concern about radioactive materials, even a long distance away from the Fukushima plants.

"Some of them are shorter lived like Iodine 131 but Strontium 90 has a half-life of 29 years and once it's incorporated into bone it essentially stays with you for the rest of your life irradiating the bone and the bone marrow and causing leukemia and bone cancer. Sezium 137 doesn't last in your body quite so long but it has a very long half-life as well. Of course Plutonium has the longest half-life of all of these elements that we're concerned about, it's more than 24,000 years. The issue is that people at some remove from the plant may be exposed to very powerful carcinogenic radio isotopes. They may enter the body through inhalation or through ingestions from water and food and that land at some significant distance may be contaminated so heavily with these materials that it cannot be used by humans for an extended period of time."

A pair of nuclear reactors in south Florida have been ranked as the sixth most vulnerable to earthquake damage in the United States. An MSNBC investigation of data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found the St. Lucie nuclear reactors in Jensen Beach have better than a 1 in 22,000 chance of core damage from a quake. That’s worse than any nuclear reactors in California.

Previous WMNF news coverage of nuclear power

wire reports including AP were used in this report

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