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Friday, March 18, 2011

Exposed: Nuclear fuel rods inside wrecked reactor as experts predict radioactive plume will reach Britain in two weeks

By Daily Mail Reporter

-Particles spewed from wrecked Fukushima power station to hit U.S. today
-Japanese upgrade accident from level four to five - the same as Three Mile Island
-Officials admit they may have to bury reactors under concrete to stop catastrophic release
-Military trucks tackle reactors with tons of water for second day
-Government says it was overwhelmed by the scale of twin disasters

Exposed: this shots shows a gaping hole in the building of reactor number four. The green crane, circled, is normally used to move spent fuel rods into a 45ft deep storage pond, just out of shot. But the pool has now boiled dry and the spent rods are heating up and releasing radiation

These pictures show overheating fuel rods exposed to the elements through a huge hole in the wall of a reactor building at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant.

Radiation is streaming into the atmosphere from the used uranium rods at reactor number four, after a 45-ft deep storage pool designed to keep them stable boiled dry in a fire.

And some of the radioactive material could reach Britain within a fortnight, according to experts who say it will not be dangerous when it reaches our shores.

Boiled dry: This shot shows of the inside of reactor number four at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant before the disaster. The spent fuel storage pool is seen at the front of the shot. The rods are at the bottom of the pool, which has now boiled dry

Particles spewing from the stricken plant at Fukushima have already been traced on planes arriving in the U.S. from the disaster-torn country.

An airborne plume of radiation is expected to hit America's western seaboard today before being swept towards Europe. However, officials have stressed that the levels reaching the UK will not be high enough to pose any risk to human health.

Lars-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defence Research Institute, said particles would eventually be detected across Europe.

'It is not something you see normally,' he said. 'But it is not high from any danger point of view. It is only a question of very, very low activities so it is nothing for people to worry about.'

The prediction that particles could reach Britain within two weeks is based on previous data, gathered by scientists observing nuclear testing in China.

Meanwhile, workers at the devastated power station are continuing their desperate battle to prevent a complete meltdown which some fear could be as bad as Chernobyl.

The latest pictures show a whole wall missing from the building housing reactor number four. Inside, a green crane normally used to move spent fuel rods into the storage pool can be seen. Underneath the crane, but not seen in the picture, is the 45ft deep spent fuel storage pool which has boiled dry.

Japan's nuclear safety agency today raised the rating of the Fukushima accident from four to five on a seven level scale.

And the Japanese government today admitted that it had been overwhelmed by the scale of the twin disasters.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today: 'The unprecedented scale of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, frankly speaking, were among many things that happened that had not been anticipated under our disaster management contingency plans.

'In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster.'

Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the crisis' severity.

It is now on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. Only the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 has topped the scale.

Officials at Fukushima are rapidly running out of options to halt the crisis. Military trucks are spraying the reactors for a second days with tons of water arcing over the facility.

And they today admitted that burying reactors under sand and concrete - the solution adopted in Chernobyl - may be the only option to stop a catastrophic radiation release.

Attempts to quell the overheating plant with waterbombs from helicopters yesterday failed and despite the army pelting the site with water cannon, radiation levels rose higher.

Engineers are also working to restore power to the coolant pumping system knocked out by the tsunami.

Destroyed: A satellite image of the Fukushima nuclear station shows the destroyed reactor buildings and radioactive steam rising form the plant

There was a potential breakthrough when engineers succeeded in connecting a power line to Reactor 2. This should enable them to restore electricity to the cooling pumps needed to prevent meltdown.

But it is not certain the system will work after suffering extensive damage.

As the crisis entered its eighth day, the Japanese government was facing growing international condemnation for its handling of the world's second worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and for the lack of information it is giving experts and the public.

Officials have declared a 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant on the north eastern coast. Another 140,000 people living within 18 miles have been told not to leave their homes.

But Britain, which is pressing Japan to be more open about the disaster, has advised citizens to give the area a 30-mile berth and to quit Tokyo nearly 150 miles to the south.

Yesterday thousands headed to Tokyo's airport to leave the country for whichever destination they could find.

Two Foreign Office-ordered chartered flights, with almost 600 seats, begin their work today to bring Britons home.

America, France and Australia are also advising nationals to move away from the plant.

A week after the earthquake and tsunami, authorities are still struggling to bring it back from the brink of disaster.

Four of six nuclear reactors at the site have been hit by explosions and fires which have sent clouds of low-level radiation into the air.

The team of exhausted workers battling to prevent meltdown at the site – dubbed the 'Fukushima Fifty' – are unable to approach the most badly damaged reactors because radiation levels are so high.

Yesterday concern focused on two large tanks used to store spent nuclear fuel at Reactors 3 and 4.

Hydrogen explosions blew the roofs off both buildings earlier this week, leaving the pools exposed to the elements.

Water levels in the tanks have dropped dramatically in the last few days, possibly because of a leak caused by the earthquake. Waste in Reactor 3 is completely exposed to the air and is emitting alarming levels of radiation as it heats up.

Dangerous work: officials wearing protective clothing and respirators head towards the Fukushima nuclear plant

Getting worse: The Inernational Atomic Energy Agency has upgraded the disaster to a level five. But French officials have previously claimed it is a six

Staging point: Fiire engines gather in Iwaki today as they prepare to douse overheating reactors and spent fuel at the plant

Unlike the other reactors which use uranium, Reactor 3 uses a mixture of uranium and plutonium. Plutonium, best known as an ingredient in nuclear weapons, is particularly dangerous if released into the environment.

In the worst case scenario, exposed fuel will melt, triggering a chemical explosion that will send radioactive dust hundreds of yards into the air.

Chinook helicopters flying at less than 300 feet dropped four loads of water over the wrecked building in the hope that some water would seep into the dried-out pool and cool the fuel.

Fearful residents: Officials scan people for radiation, 60 km west of the nuclear power plant in Koriyama on March 18

Growing criticism: The Japanese government is the target of growing criticism over the nuclear crisis. A businessman are pictured receiving a radiation scan at a screening centre in Koriyama after being evacuated form their homes

International alarm: Passengers arriving from Japan are scanned at Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia, left, and Japanese passengers disembraking from a ferry walk through a scanner in Busan, South Korea

However, footage suggested much of the 2,000 gallons of water missed its target.

Later, six fire engines and a water cannon tried to spray the building with 9,000 gallons of water from high pressure hoses. However, radiation levels within the plant rose from 3,700 millisieverts to 4,000 millisieverts an hour immediately afterwards.

People exposed to such doses will suffer radiation sickness and many will die. Today Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the plant, will try to restart the reactor's cooling systems after workers connected a half mile long power cable from the national grid to Reactor 2.

Spokesman Teruaki Kobayashi said: 'This is the first step towards recovery.'

He added: 'We are doing all we can as we pray for the situation to improve.'

Last night 14,000 were confirmed dead or missing in Japan and 492,000 are homeless. There are 850,000 households in the north of the main island without electricity in freezing temperatures.

Fleeing: Passengers queue at the ticket counter to buy tickets for the earliest possible flight as they attempt to evacuate from Japan at Narita International Airport near Tokyo

Exhausted: Children sleep on the floor of Narita International Airport as their parents try to get on a flight out the country.

Source : dailymail


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