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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More radioactive water spills at Japan nuke plant

Reuters/Tokyo Electric Power Co./Kyodo

A resident of Oshima island of pushes a wheel barrow past the destroyed port as he tries to salvage belongings from his home in northeastern Japan Mon AP – A resident of Oshima island of pushes a wheel barrow past the destroyed port as he tries to salvage belongings …

TOKYO – Workers discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan's crippled nuclear complex, officials said Monday, as emergency crews struggled to pump out hundreds of tons of contaminated water and bring the plant back under control.

Officials believe the contaminated water has sent radioactivity levels soaring at the coastal complex and caused more radiation to seep into soil and seawater. Crews also found traces of plutonium in the soil outside of the complex on Monday, but officials insisted there was no threat to public health.

Plutonium — a key ingredient in nuclear weapons — is present in the fuel at the complex, which has been leaking radiation for over two weeks, so experts had expected some to be found once crews began searching for evidence of it this week.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. official Jun Tsuruoka said only two of the plutonium samples taken Monday were from the leaking reactors. The other three were from earlier nuclear tests. Years of weapons testing in the atmosphere left trace amounts of plutonium in many places around the world.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, was crippled March 11 when a tsunami spawned by a powerful earthquake slammed into Japan's northeastern coast. The huge wave engulfed much of the complex, and destroyed the crucial power systems needed to cool the complex's nuclear fuel rods.

Since then, three of the complex's six units are believed to have partially melted down, and emergency crews have struggled with everything from malfunctioning pumps to dangerous spikes in radiation that have forced temporary evacuations.

Confusion at the plant has intensified fears that the nuclear crisis will last weeks, months or years amid alarms over radiation making its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far away as Tokyo.

The troubles at the Fukushima complex have eclipsed Pennsylvania's 1979 crisis at Three Mile Island, when a partial meltdown raised fears of widespread radiation release, but is still well short of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which killed at least 31 people with radiation sickness, raised long-term cancer rates, and spewed radiation across much of the northern hemisphere.

While parts of the Japanese plant has been reconnected to the power grid, the contaminated water — which has now been found in numerous places around the complex, including the basements of several buildings — must be pumped out before electricity can be restored to the cooling system.

That has left officials struggling with two sometimes-contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out — and then safely storing — contaminated water.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, called that balance "very delicate work."

He also said workers were still looking for safe ways to store the radioactive water.

"We are exploring all means," he said.

The buildup of radioactive water first became a problem last week, when it splashed over the boots of two workers, burning them and prompting a temporary suspension of work.

Then on Monday, officials with Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns and runs the complex, said that workers had found more radioactive water in deep trenches used for pipes and electrical wiring outside three units.

The contaminated water has been emitting radiation exposures more than four times the amount that the government considers safe for workers.

The five workers in the area at the time were not hurt, said TEPCO spokesman Takashi Kurita.

Exactly where the water is coming from remains unclear, though many suspect it is cooling water that has leaked from one of the disabled reactors.

It could take weeks to pump out the radioactive water, said Gary Was, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

"Battling the contamination so workers can work there is going to be an ongoing problem," he said.

Meanwhile, new readings showed ocean contamination had spread about a mile (1.6 kilometers) farther north of the nuclear site than before but is still within the 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the evacuation zone. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered offshore at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.

Amid reports that people had been sneaking back into the mandatory evacuation zone around the nuclear complex, the chief government spokesman again urged residents to stay out. Yukio Edano said contaminants posed a "big" health risk in that area.

Gregory Jaczko, head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, arrived in Tokyo on Monday to meet with Japanese officials and discuss the situation, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

"The unprecedented challenge before us remains serious, and our best experts remain fully engaged to help Japan," Jaczko was quoted as saying.

Early Monday, a strong earthquake shook the northeastern coast and prompted a brief tsunami alert. The quake was measured at magnitude 6.5, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. No damage or injuries were reported.

Scores of earthquakes have rattled the country over the past two weeks, adding to the sense of unease across Japan, where the final death toll is expected to top 18,000 people, with hundreds of thousands still homeless.

TEPCO officials said Sunday that radiation in leaking water in Unit 2 was 10 million times above normal — a report that sent employees fleeing. But the day ended with officials saying that figure had been miscalculated and the level was actually 100,000 times above normal, still very high but far better than the earlier results.

"This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven," Edano said sternly Monday.

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  • ___

    Associated Press writers Tomoko A. Hosaka, Mayumi Saito, Mari Yamaguchi and Jeff Donn contributed to this report.


    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110328/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake


    World English Dictionary
    plutonium (pluːˈtəʊnɪəm) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
    n
    a highly toxic metallic transuranic element. It occurs in trace amounts in uranium ores and is produced in a nuclear reactor by neutron bombardment of uranium-238. The most stable and important isotope, plutonium-239 , readily undergoes fission and is used as a reactor fuel in nuclear power stations and in nuclear weapons. Symbol: Pu; atomic no: 94; half-life of 239 Pu: 24 360 years; valency: 3, 4, 5, or 6; relative density (alpha modification): 19.84; melting pt: 640°C; boiling pt: 3230°C
    [C20: named after the dwarf planet Pluto because Pluto lies beyond Neptune and plutonium was discovered soon after neptunium ]


    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/+plutonium+

    Nuclear industry touts safety of new reactors


    In this March 23, 2011 photo, contractors at work in the reactor building at the construction site of the nuclear power plant Olkiluoto 3 'OL3' in Eur AP – In this March 23, 2011 photo, contractors at work in the reactor building at the construction site of …

    OLKILUOTO, Finland – Halfway around the globe from Japan's atomic emergency, engineers building a cutting-edge nuclear reactor along Finland's icy shores insist the same crisis could never happen here.

    And that's not only because Finland is seismically stable.

    The 1,600-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor projected to come online in 2013 in Olkiluoto, 195 miles (315 kilometers) northwest of Helsinki, is the first of its kind expected to begin operating after the Japanese disaster.

    It has walls thick enough to withstand an airplane crash, components designed to tolerate the extreme cold of the Nordic winter, and decades worth of new safety systems.

    "(We have) so many backup systems that the kind of accident like in Japan could not happen," said project manager Jouni Silvennoinen.

    With the renaissance of nuclear power at stake, the atomic industry faces the challenge of persuading an increasingly skeptical public that new reactors like the EPR units being built by French company Areva in Finland, France and China are not just safer than the old ones but are virtually disaster-proof.

    The state-controlled company has marketed its expensive new-generation reactor technology to the United States and developing countries from India to Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Since news of Japan's catastrophe, Areva's shares have fallen 12.4 percent, trading at euro31.49 midday Friday.

    Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon has said an EPR plant would have survived the earthquake and tsunami without radiation leaks. And French Energy Minister Eric Besson, whose country gets up to 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, insisted last week it was his "profound conviction that nuclear energy will stay in Europe and the world and be one of the core energies in the 21st century."

    But that's a tough message to sell, with explosions and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan eroding confidence in nuclear power. That confidence took decades to rebuild following the Soviet Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.

    Shocked by the Japanese crisis, the European Union has called for "stress tests" for its 143 reactors. Germany — the EU's biggest economy — has temporarily suspended plans to prolong the life of its aging nuclear plants and had already planned to abandon nuclear power altogether over the next 25 years. President Barack Obama, while expressing support for nuclear power, requested a comprehensive review of the safety of U.S. plants.

    Even China, which plans a massive expansion of nuclear energy, has said it will hold off on approving new nuclear plants to allow for a revision in safety standards.

    Suggesting that third-generation reactors like the EPR would have withstood the shock that crippled the Japanese plant is "sheer arrogance," said Mycle Schneider, an independent researcher on France's nuclear industry.

    "There's no way we can say today that any plant in the world would have survived what happened in Japan," he said.

    At the Fukushima plant, which began operating in 1971, the massive earthquake and tsunami damaged the critical cooling system, which overheated and began spewing radiation into the environment. For the first time, nuclear engineers were forced to head off a total reactor meltdown at three reactors simultaneously as well as dealing with overheating fuel rods in a damaged storage pool at a fourth reactor.

    So how could a modern reactor have avoided those problems?

    The principle of power generation is the same as in older water reactors like the ones at Fukushima: nuclear reaction heats water to create steam that turns turbines to generate electricity. But technological advances have improved efficiency and stricter safety precautions have made the third-generation reactors more secure, industry officials say.

    New EPR plants have backup systems like diesel generators that are housed in separate buildings to protect them from any accident that might occur in the main reactor building. The plant must also have access to other sources of electricity, like gas turbines or the national grid, if the diesel generators fail to work.

    At Olkiluoto, four large diesel generators act as a backup if the first step of connecting to the national grid proves unsuccessful. If they don't work, two smaller diesel generators kick in, and failing that, the new reactor can be connected to the joint backup systems of two older reactors at Olkiluoto.

    There are also new "protective barriers" shielding the environment from radioactive products used in the reactor. These include encasing the fuel rods in thick metal containers and having a double concrete cover and walls over the containment vessel that houses the reactor.

    Besides natural disasters, modern reactors worldwide must be able to withstand terror strikes and — since 9/11 — even a large airliner crash, Silvennoinen said.

    Situated just 200 yards (meters) from the frozen Baltic Sea, the Olkiluoto nuclear plant is elevated so that it can withstand storm surges of up to 11 feet (3.5 meters), which is considered a worst-case scenario.

    During a recent visit, dozens of workers in yellow vests clambered up and down stairs of the concrete buildings bordering the cylinder-shaped reactor as construction cranes swerved over its domed roof.

    Since Olkiluoto is the first EPR scheduled to become operational, it has been seen as a flagship for the latest generation of nuclear reactors. But the project has been plagued by faulty materials and planning problems since construction began in 2005, and it's now running four years behind schedule.

    The nearby town of Eurajoki, population 6,000, in the middle of Finland's sparsely populated countryside, has welcomed the project. It has created 4,000 jobs, even though 70 percent of them went to foreign workers.

    Teijo Jantunen, who lives near the town, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Olkiluoto, conceded that the problems at Fukushima had made him think about the possibility of a nuclear accident.

    "But I'm not really very worried. I'm confident it will be a good plant," said Jantunen, a 57-year-old construction manager. "I trust them despite everything."

    Leo Mantymaki, who lives 6 miles (10 kilometers) away, doesn't quite know what to believe.

    "They tell us that a Japan-like accident couldn't happen here, but I'm not so sure," the retired welder said, sitting on a tractor as he took a break from clearing snow. "What if they press the wrong button?"

    Jukka Laaksonen, director of Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, stressed that safety features must be designed according to local conditions, and said a major flaw at Fukushima was that its seawall was too low.

    "EPR has much better safety systems than old similar plants but having a good plant is not enough," Laaksonen said. "You also have to pay attention to the site conditions. If the EPR is not properly protected against a tsunami ... then you never know what will happen."

    _______

    Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

    (This version CORRECTS Corrects to remove high-pressure in paragraph 16)


    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110328/ap_on_bi_ge/eu_nuclear_the_next_generation

    Scramble as radiation spreads to ocean, soil

    A Greenpeace member holds up a Geiger counter to monitor radioactivity levels at Iitate village (Reuters/Christian Slund/Greenpeace)

    Officials: plutonium found at Japan's nuke complex


    A resident of Oshima island of pushes a wheel barrow past the destroyed port as he tries to salvage belongings from his home in northeastern Japan Mon AP – A resident of Oshima island of pushes a wheel barrow past the destroyed port as he tries to salvage belongings …

    TOKYO – Power company officials say plutonium has been detected in the soil outside of the stricken Japanese nuclear complex.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. says in a statement that the plutonium was discovered Monday in five locations around the plant, which has been leaking radiation for nearly two weeks.

    TEPCO official Jun Tsuruoka says the amounts were very small and were not a risk to public health.

    Experts had expected traces of plutonium to be detected once crews began searching for it this week, since it is present in the nuclear fuel in the troubled complex.


    THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.


    TOKYO (AP) — Power company officials say plutonium has been detected in the soil outside of the stricken Japanese nuclear complex.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. says in a statement that the plutonium was discovered Monday in five locations around the plant, which has been leaking radiation for nearly two weeks.

    TEPCO official Jun Tsuruoka says the amounts were very small and were not a risk to public health.

    Experts had expected traces of plutonium to be detected once crews began searching for it this week, since it is present in the nuclear fuel in the troubled complex.

    Japan Nuke Crisis: What Options are Left? Play Video ABC News – Japan Nuke Crisis: What Options are Left?


    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110328/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

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