Early this morning, an explosion at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan prompted fears of high radiation leakage and a possible core meltdown. Those fears have since abated, though the situation remains dangerous. The plant, which was damaged in yesterday’s massive earthquake, has been a source continual concern as Japan attempts to stage recovery efforts in the area. From The New York Times:
Officials said late Saturday that leaks of radioactive material from the plant, which began before the explosion, were receding and that a major meltdown was not imminent. But severe problems at two nuclear plants close to the epicenter of the quake forced evacuations of tens of thousands of people from surrounding areas, hampering efforts to search for survivors and forcing Japan’s leadership to grapple with two major crises as the same time.
Reports on the incident say that the explosion was caused by a buildup of hydrogen inside the concrete enclosure around the reactor core. Officials are being quoted as saying that the core itself was not damaged, and that amount of radioactive material released in the explosion was minimal. Since the explosion, radiation readings have actually diminished. The explosion does give workers a chance to directly cool the core, and lessen the chance of a reactor meltdown. Again, from The Times:
Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the plant, located 160 miles north of Tokyo, plans to fill the reactor with seawater to cool it down and reduce pressure. The process would take five to 10 hours, [Yukio] Edano [a member of Japan's chief cabinet secretary] said, expressing confidence that the operation could “prevent criticality.”
The government has increased the evacuation area around the plant, and is monitoring other power plants that have been affected by the quake. As attempts to stabilize the situation at the Fukushima plant continue, the government has begun distributing iodine as a precaution against radiation sickness. Hopefully, it will stay precautionary.
(via The New York Times)