Fukushima: aftershock raises fear of deepening crisis

A magnitude 7.4 aftershock hit northeastern Japan April 7—raising fears of a deepening of the crisis at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) reported no serious incidents as a result of the aftershock. But Ed Lyman, a nuclear safety expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists told the LA Times’ Ecocentric blog: “The damage that has been done to date by the earthquake and tsunami has degraded the plant’s ability to withstand ground motion, so you have more chance of a containment breach with the next earthquake. The conditions at the plant are so fragile, it can’t really stand many more challenges.”

CNN reported April 5 that TEPCO had succeeded in cutting off the flow of highly radioactive water into the Pacific by injecting a polymer dubbed “liquid glass.” But BBC News reported April 4 that TEPCO has also started intentionally releasing “low-radioactive” wastewater into the sea. More than 10,000 tons will be pumped into the ocean over the next several days.

The LA Times said April 8 that it had received “on background” an assessment from the White House that “there is no evidence that overheating during the last month has resulted in any melting of the reactor vessels or their containment structures” at Fukushima, and that “the plant is unlikely to suffer a complete meltdown, in which uranium fuel gets so hot that it melts through the bottom of the reactor and containment vessels, spewing high-level radiation into the plant’s underlying foundation.”

But the LA Times also cited (this time named) US officials April 7 saying that cleaning up the radioactive water at Fukushima could take decades. Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and longtime advisor on nuclear waste, said the problems facing Japan are greater than even the most highly contaminated nuclear weapons site in the US, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.

See our last post on the Fukushima disaster and the nuclear threat.

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