Nuclear plant operators trying to avoid complete reactor meltdowns said Thursday that they were close to finishing a new power line that could end Japan’s crisis, but several ominous signs have also emerged: a surge in radiation levels, unexplained white smoke and spent fuel rods that U.S. officials said might be on the verge of spewing more radioactive material.
As fear, confusion and unanswered questions swirled around the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, and Japan suffered myriad other trials from last week’s earthquake and tsunami believed to have killed more than 10,000, its emperor took the unprecedented step of directly addressing his country on camera, urging his people not to give up.
“It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead,” Akihito said Wednesday. “I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy.”
The 77-year-old emperor expressed his own deep concern about the “unpredictable” nuclear crisis. “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse,” he said.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a congressional hearing in Washington that all the water is gone from the spent fuel storage pond of Fukushima Dai-ichi’s Unit 4 reactor, but Japanese officials denied it. Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the “condition is stable” at Unit 4.
Earlier, however, another utility spokesman said officials’ greatest concerns were the spent fuel pools, which lack the protective shells that reactors have.
“We haven’t been able to get any of the latest data at any spent fuel pools. We don’t have the latest water levels, temperatures, none of the latest information for any of the four reactors,” Masahisa Otsuki said.
If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there’s nothing to stop the used fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shells of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.
“My understanding is there is no water in the spent fuel pool,” Jaczko told reporters after the hearing. “I hope my information is wrong. It’s a terrible tragedy for Japan.”
He said the information was coming from NRC staff in Tokyo who are working with the utility in Japan. He said the staffers continue to believe the spent fuel pool is dry.Next Page »