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Skeleton Crew Evacuated from Fukushima, Containment Vessel Breach Possible

Every time we think the situation inside Fukushima’s unit 2 reactor has stabilized, we seem to get more bad news. Details on the latest explosion from the Post:

The skeleton crew remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is being evacuated because of the risk they face from dangerous radiation levels, a Japanese government spokesman said Wednesday morning.

This after the latest in a series of explosions inside the reactor, raising fears of a full breach:

The explosion probably damaged the main protective shield around the uranium-filled core inside one of the plant’s six reactors. Such a breach would be the first at a nuclear power plant since the Chernobyl catastrophe in the Soviet Union 25 years ago.

The latest explosion — compounded by a fire in a different unit Wednesday morning — marked yet another setback in the five-day battle to stabilize the Daiichi facility, which suffered heavy damage to its cooling systems after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. Other explosions occurred earlier at two of the plant’s reactors.

The blast Tuesday t Unit 2 was not outwardly visible, but potentially more dangerous because it may have created an escape route for radioactive material bottled up inside the thick steel-and-concrete reactor tube. Radiation-laced steam is probably building up between that tube and the building that houses it, experts said, triggering fears that the pressure would blow apart the structure, emitting radiation from the core.

“They’re putting water into the core and generating steam, and that steam has to go somewhere,” said Arnie Gunderson, a nuclear engineer with 40 years of experience overseeing the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility, whose reactors are of the same vintage and design as those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “It has to be carrying radiation.”

While experts say the modern engineering of the reactor make a Chernobyl-scale emission of radiation “unlikely or even impossible,” this isn’t likely to reassure anybody:

Tepco said a skeleton crew of 50 to 70 employees — far fewer than the 1,400 or more at the plant during normal operations — were working in shifts to keep seawater flowing to the three reactors now in trouble.

The removal of most of the plant’s workers “is a sign to me that they have given up trying to prevent a disaster and gone into the mode of trying to clean up afterward,” Gunderson said.

More here on that. On the other hand, the BBC is reporting that radiation levels may now be falling, and that the evacuation may be temporary:

[Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yukio] Mr Edano also said that the radiation levels were now falling: from 1,000 millisieverts on Wednesday morning to 600-800.

But that was still more than average, Mr Edano said, adding that “the workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now. Because of the radiation risk, we are on standby.”


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