Japan nuclear crisis: Suddenly, light at the end of the tunnel?
The power to operate cooling pumps, a challenge at the heart of the Japan nuclear crisis, is on the verge of being restored, and a detailed assessment by a US expert is notably upbeat.
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True, a plume of what appeared to be white smoke rose from two reactor units on Monday, causing workers to evacuate the area and sending a shiver of concern around the world.
But the smoke apparently was not accompanied by any rise in temperature or radiation readings, according to US officials. If subsequent measurements confirm this assessment, that is good news.
Plus, Japanese workers were close to restoring electricity to the plant after stringing what amounts to a very long extension cord to the area from the nearest live power grid.
“In my view, the fact that off-site power is close to being available for use of plant equipment is perhaps the first optimistic sign that we’ve had things could be turning around,” said Bill Borchardt, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission executive director for operations, at a Monday meeting of the NRC outside Washington, D.C.
Containment vessels not breached
Mr. Borchardt, in one of the most detailed assessments yet made public about the crisis at the Fukushima site, said that in the NRC’s view none of the six primary containment vessels at the complex had been breached in the aftermath of the twin natural disasters that struck northeast Japan on March 11.
The situation at the spent fuel pools at reactors three and four is “stabilizing,” said Borchardt. That would mean that the efforts of Japanese firefighters and soldiers to pour water through damaged buildings into the pools may be paying off.
That’s important because these pools “were of significant safety concern,” Borchardt told NRC commissioners. Radiation releases at the site may have come primarily from fuel rods in these pools after they lost water following the quake and tsunami, he said.
Right now, the electrical power that workers are bringing into the plant has essentially reached the border between units one and two, according to the NRC. Japanese workers are now laying temporary wires into the containment buildings to bypass cabling problems they’ve discovered.
New pumps on order
In Japan, officials of Tokyo Electric Power said that some of the pumps inside the most damaged reactors no longer work. They have ordered new pumps, which circulate coolant inside the reactor buildings, but the delivery schedule for these is unknown.