Nuclear Emergency Declared After Japan Earthquake: Meltdown Possible

After a devastating earthquake struck Japan, leaving its citizens searching for family members and loved ones. A tsunami emerged and added to the devastation. Now, Japan has initiated a Nuclear Emergency after several of their nuclear reactor cooling systems failed.

Evacuations have begun around the reactors that pose the biggest threat, as the Japanese authorities are forced to release radioactive steam into the air.

According to the USA Today,

Japanese authorities are venting radioactive steam into the air after the earthquake on Friday critically damaged a nuclear reactor at Fukushima Daiichi plant.

 The government ordered thousands of people living within 6 miles of the plant to evacuate. Early Saturday, it declared a nuclear emergency at a second power plant where a cooling system had also failed.

When an earthquake strikes, the plants automatically shut down, but the radioactive material continues to decay and produce heat. Reactor cooling systems, which rely on electric pumps to circulate water around the nuclear core, are designed to prevent overheating and pressure buildups.

It seems that the earthquake in Fukushima damaged the plant’s backup diesel generator, this is forcing all the pumps to run on battery power. But despite all efforts workers have been unable to restore the systems.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said pressure inside the reactor had risen to abnormal levels and radiation levels inside the facility had surged to 1,000 times more than normal.

The government said it would have to release vapor from the reactor to lower the pressure and avoid a meltdown.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the amount of radioactivity in vapor would be “very small” and would not harm people or the environment. 

“With evacuation in place and the ocean-bound wind, we can ensure the safety,” he said at a news conference early Saturday. 

While relieving some of the pressure may give workers enough time to restore the cooling systems the window for success must be achieved within 12 to 24 hours tops.

It has the potential to be catastrophic,” said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, and a former senior policy adviser to the Energy Secretary during the Clinton administration.

If the cooling is not restored quickly, the core can overheat, causing the water to boil over and exposing the core to air. The interior can catch fire and cause a meltdown, releasing nuclear material into the concrete containment dome that surrounds the reactor, Alvarez says.

Is this barrier going to be sufficient?” Alvarez said. “It’s a dicey proposition. The best you can say is, stay tuned.” 

The Prime Minister reported that  “no reports of any radioactive materials or otherwise affecting the surrounding areas.” The government declared emergencies at two of it’s reactors, as the defense ministry sent specially trained troops who handle chemical attacks to the plant in case there was a radiation leak.

The Japanese have a well thought out safety system in place for incidences like this, since they suffer many earthquakes. So, hopefully they will get control of this problem and the radiation that has to be released will not cause any harm.

Read More: USA Today 

Photo Credit: Swobodin via Flickr

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