Notes on current news of Japan's nuclear emergency

WEDNESDAY MORNING 16 MARCH 2011: Thanks to researcher and writer Dimity Hawkins for an overnight update and update with information from sources including the IAEAi (International Atomic Energy Agency)

WHERE THE IAEAi ARE MONITORING:
The IAEAi Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) is monitoring the status of a number of the nuclear power plants in Japan that were affected by the devastating earthquake and consequent tsunami, including:

  • Fukushima Daini
  • Onagawa
  • Tokai
  • Hamaoka
  • and of course the Fukushima Daiichi plant

See map of plant locations

(The BBC also has a very good interactive map on the number and magnitude of quakes in the past 5 days.)

The IAEAi report that many of these nuclear power plants are in a safe and stable condition (cold shut down).

MORE EARTHQUAKES:
There were several more earthquakes, tremors/aftershocks overnight. One of 6.4 shook buildings across Eastern Japan overnight.
One to note in particular in relation to nuke plants:

HAMAOKA:
An earthquake of 6.1 magnitude was reported today at 13:31 UTC in Eastern Honshu, Japan. The Hamaoka nuclear power plant is sited an estimated 100 kilometres from the epicentre.

IEC confirmed with Japan that the plant continues to operate safely.

* Units 1 and 2 are decommissioned,
* Unit 3 is under inspection and not operational, and
* Units 4 and 5 remain in safe operational status after the earthquake.

WORKER HEALTH:
50 or so workers are still in Fukushima - here's some early reporting from BBC:

2051: A small group of workers have been battling around the clock to stave off disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. The BBC's Aidan Lewis says: "The few dozen who are left have faced explosions and fires as they rush to pump sea water into overheated reactors. The workers are being rotated in and out, to try to limit their exposure to radiation. They are also assumed to be wearing sophisticated protective clothing."

2055: But David Richardson, a professor of epidemiology at the university of North Carolina who has studied the long-term health risks for nuclear plant workers, said those at Fukushima would still be exposed to Gamma radiation that passed through the body like an X-ray. And he said the doses of radiation received in an hour could be higher than those that nuclear workers in the US are generally exposed to over the course of an entire career. "These workers in a few hours are getting fairly high doses I would say by contemporary standards for worker protection and that's likely to pose some risks down the line. To my knowledge there's not a good way after exposure of trying to protect somebody from the risks of a subsequent later cancer."

2058: The BBC's Aidan Lewis adds: "The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), has given no information about their employees. But one expert suggested that workers who have retired or are based in other parts of the country are likely to be called in as the crisis drags on. Those already on duty are being hailed as heroes."

AND WHAT IS HAPPENING IN FUKUSHIMA?:

Units 5 and 6 now also appear to  be in trouble, as well as the serious problems in the other 4 units.

From the IAEAi this morning:

"The IAEAi remains concerned over the status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where sea water injections to cool the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 are continuing. Attempts to return power to the entire Daiichi site are also continuing." . . .

"Unit 4 was shut down for a routine, planned maintenance outage on 30 November 2010. After the outage, all fuel from the reactor was transferred to the spent fuel pool. [ie, the pool which caught fire yesterday]

* Units 5 and 6 were shut down at the time of the earthquake.
* Unit 5 was shut down as of 3 January 2011.
* Unit 6 was shut down as of 14 August 2010.
* Both reactors are currently loaded with fuel.

As of 00:16 UTC on 15 March, plant operators were considering the removal of panels from Units 5 and 6 reactor buildings to prevent a possible build-up of hydrogen in the future. It was a build-up of hydrogen at Units 1, 2 and 3 that led to explosions at the Daiichi facilities in recent days."