Friday, March 11, 2011

Radioactive leak confirmed at quake-hit Fukushima plant

Kyodo News
Radiation rose to an unusually high level in and near Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant Saturday following the powerful earthquake that hit northern Japan the previous day, the nuclear safety agency said, making it the first case of an external leak of radioactive material since the disaster.

While the agency denied the radiation amount will pose an immediate threat to the health of nearby residents, the impact of the quake appeared to widen as the agency added the area close to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant as a zone that requires evacuation.

Given the adjacent No. 2 plant also has quake-triggered malfunctions, the operator of the two plants in Fukushima Prefecture released pressure in containers housing their reactors under an unprecedented government order, so as to prevent the plants from sustaining damage and losing their critical containment function.

But the action would involve the release of steam that would likely include radioactive materials.

The amount of radiation reached around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

The agency also said radiation has been measured at more than eight times the normal level near the main gate of the plant.

The authorities expanded the evacuation area for residents in the vicinity of the No. 1 plant from a 3-kilometer radius to 10 km on the orders of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who visited the facility.

The government also declared that the Fukushima No. 2 plant is under a state of atomic-power emergency, in addition to the No. 1 plant, and expanded the evacuation area to include the vicinity of the No. 2 plant.

The instruction covers residents living in a radius of 3 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 2 plant. Those living in a radius of 3-10 km of the plant have been advised to stay inside.

Japanese nuke plants struggling -

TOKYO – Japan declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday's powerful earthquake. Thousands of residents were evacuated as workers struggled to get the reactors under control to prevent meltdowns.

A single reactor in northeastern Japan had been the focus of much of the concern in the initial hours after the 8.9 magnitude quake, but the government declared new states of emergency at three other plants in the area Saturday morning.

The earthquake knocked out power at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and because a backup generator failed, the cooling system was unable to supply water to cool the 460-megawatt No. 1 reactor.

Although a backup cooling system is being used, Japan's nuclear safety agency said pressure inside the reactor had risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal.

Authorities said radiation levels had jumped 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1 and were measured at eight times normal outside the plant. They expanded an earlier evacuation zone more than threefold, from 3 to 10 kilometers (2 miles to 6.2 miles). Some 3,000 people had been urged to leave their homes in the first announcement.

The government declared a state of emergency, its first ever at a nuclear plant. And plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. warned of power shortages and an "extremely challenging situation in power supply for a while."

The utility, which also operates reactors at ety," he said at a televised news conference early Saturday.

The agency said plant workers are scrambling to restore cooling water supply at the plant but there is no prospect for immediate success.

Another official at the nuclear safety agency, Yuji Kakizaki, said that plant workers were cooling the reactor with a secondary cooling system, which is not as effective as the regular cooling method.
Kakizaki said officials have confirmed that the emergency cooling system -- the last-ditch cooling measure to prevent the reactor from the meltdown -- is intact and could kick in if needed.

"That's as a last resort, and we have not reached that stage yet," Kakizaki added.
Edano said both the state of emergency and evacuation order around the Fukushima Daiichi plant are precautionary measures.

"We launched the measure so we can be fully prepared for the worst scenario," he said. "We are using all our might to deal with the situation."

Defense Ministry official Ippo Maeyama said the ministry has dispatched dozens of troops trained for chemical disasters to the Fukushima plant in case of a radiation leak, along with four vehicles designed for use in atomic, biological and chemical warfare.
Pineville, La., resident Janie Eudy said her husband, Danny, was working at Fukushima No. 1 when the earthquake struck. After a harrowing evacuation, he called her several hours later from the parking lot of his quake-ravaged hotel.

He and other American plant workers are "waiting to be rescued, and they're in bad shape," she said in a telephone interview.

Danny Eudy, 52, a technician employed by Pasadena, Texas-based Atlantic Plant Maintenance, told his wife that the quake violently shook the plant building he was in. "Everything was falling from the ceiling," she said.

Eudy told his wife that he s can temporarily cool a reactor in this state with battery power, even when electricity is down, according to Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear engineer who used to work in the U.S. nuclear industry. Batteries would go dead within hours but could be replaced.
The nuclear reactor was among 10 in Japan shut down because of the earthquake.
The Fukushima plant is just south of the worst-hit Miyagi prefecture, where a fire broke out at another nuclear plant. The blaze was in a turbine building at one of the Onagawa power plants. Smoke could be seen coming out of the building, which is separate from the plant's reactor, Tohoku Electric Power Co. said. The fire has since been extinguished.

Another reactor at Onagawa was experiencing a water leak.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 2:46 p.m. quake was a magnitude 8.9, the biggest earthquake to hit Japan since officials began keeping records in the late 1800s.

A tsunami warning was issued for a number of Pacific, Southeast Asian and Latin American nations.
At the two-reactor Diablo Canyon plant at Avila Beach, Calif., an "unusual event" -- the lowest level of alert -- was declared in connection with a West Coast tsunami warning. The plant remained stable, though, and kept running, according to the NRC.

US Military poised to help Japan

Despite large numbers of US troops and assets in Japan, there have been no reports of serious injury or death to US military personnel in the aftermath of a 8.9-magnitude earthquake there Friday morning, nor has there yet been any “significant damage” to ships or facilities, according to Pentagon officials.

Japan has long been one of the US military’s key base regions. There are some 38,000 US troops stationed in Japan, along with 43,000 US family members and roughly 3,000 Department of Defense civilians.

While the US Navy continues to assess the state of its fleet, it is also getting ships underway and clear of the rough coast in Hawaii and Seal Beach, San Diego to protect them from turbulent seas and possible tsunami in the wake of the earthquake that has devastated Japan, defense officials said Friday. “We’re moving things out from affected areas and getting them inland,” says Col. Dave Lapan, Pentagon spokesman.

This is expected to include submarines as well, which the Pentagon is often loath to discuss because they are equipped with strategic weapons and intelligence capabilities. In Guam, the mooring lines of two US navy submarines broke from the pier after the earthquake and had to be tugged back to port.

At the same time, ships from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet are mobilizing to provide humanitarian aid and medical relief that has been requested by Japan’s new foreign minister. These vessels are being “positioned and prepared to provide any assistance necessary,” Lapan told reporters Friday. “We are in the process of determining what the requirements are, and how we might fill them.”

UPDATE: Five U.S. Navy ships were heading to Japan, and two others were already docked in the country, according to the Pentagon. The State Department on Friday said there were no immediate reports of casualties among the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens -- tourists, military personnel and others -- in Japan.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington is in the maintenance yard in Japan and unable to get underway. Another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan in the western Pacific, is the only carrier heading to Japan.
"We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on the way." Obama said Friday. "And we also have a ship en route to the Mariana Islands to assist as needed."

Among the 38,000 U.S. military personnel, 43,000 dependents and 5,000 Department of Defense civilians assigned to Japan, there are no reports of loss of life and no reports of major damage to

U.S. warships, aircraft or facilities in Japan, said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.
Obama was awakened at 4 a.m. ET with news of the disaster and received a briefing from his top security and emergency response advisers at 9:30 a.m., the White House said.
In a statement, Obama sent his condolences to the people of Japan and declared that the United States stands ready to offer aid, citing the strong ties between the two nations. Obama also spoke by telephone with Kan, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Clinton pledged "immediate disaster relief assistance" and said "we are working closely with the government of Japan to provide additional help," according to a State Department statement.
Pentagon spokesman Lapan said Japan's foreign minister had formally asked the United States for help, launching the process of figuring out what is needed and what the U.S. military can provide.

The State Department issued an alert against nonessential travel to Japan because of the earthquake and tsunami. The alert said that Tokyo airports were closed and others also may be closed or restricted, and that public transportation in Tokyo and other areas has been interrupted.
The alert also said strong aftershocks were likely "for weeks" and included instructions for what to do if caught in another earthquake or aftershock. It urged U.S. citizens in Japan to contact family and friends to let them know of their well-being.

Two U.S. airlines -- Delta and American -- announced the cancellation of flights to Tokyo. It was unclear if flights to other Japanese airports also would be affected. In addition, Delta, United and Continental airlines announced they were waiving change fees for people whose travel plans involving Japan were affected by the disaster.

At the State Department, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs said a 24-hour consular task force has been set up to help Americans affected by the earthquake.

UPDATE: Humanitarian assistance from the United States began its journey to Japan Friday, as President Barack Obama extended a helping hand to the nation after it was hit by a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Navy personnel in Singapore began loading tons of supplies aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship, the USS Blue Ridge. The vessel and its crew are scheduled to depart for Japan sometime Friday evening, CNN has learned.

The Blue Ridge is one of eight major warships either near Japan or headed for it.
The USS Essex is scheduled to leave Malaysia Friday evening carrying about 2,000 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary movement.

The USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Germantown are en route to Japan from the Philippine Sea.

The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered carrier, has been pulled from a long-planned exercise off the Korean Peninsula and is now headed for the earthquake area, accompanied by USS Chancellorsville and the USS Preble.

And the USS Tortuga has left its base at Sasebo, a port city in far southern Japan. The ship already has several landing craft on board, but it's heading to South Korea to take delivery of MH-53 cargo helicopters, which it will then carry to Japan.

Japan Nuclear plant to vent air

Air that may contain radioactive materials will be vented from a nuclear power plant in quake-stricken Fukushima Prefecture. The Tokyo Electric Power Company has decided to release air from the reactor's containment vessels, aiming to avoid their breakdown.

The company issued a warning about its Fukushima Number One Plant early on Saturday morning. It said the pressure value for the reactor's containment vessels had risen, and that if the value was correct, the vessels could break down.

Tokyo Electric says the amount of air to be released will be small and that it will notify residents near the plant before it starts releasing the air. The company says it will check the amount of radioactive materials in the air before the release.

Earlier, the government issued an evacuation advisory to people living within a

Pray for Japan ...


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