Fukishima Dai-ichi status updates on Thursday 17th “It is not going to be another Tjernobyl”

2000 CET: From the IAEA – Engineers plan to reconnect power to unit 2 once the spraying of water on the unit 3 reactor building is completed, the statement says. “The spraying of water on the unit 3 reactor building was temporarily stopped at 1109 GMT (2009 local time) on 17 March. The IAEA continues to liaise with the Japanese authorities and is monitoring the situation as it evolves”

1900 CET: The installation of the new high voltage power line to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and the restarting of the cooling systems seems now to be the critical and perhaps decisive step. Hopefully this can be done on Friday.

A Russian nuclear expert has said Japan should concentrate its efforts on restoring power to the Fukushima nuclear plant – rather than trying to cool its reactors by dropping water from helicopters. “One can only put out forest fires like this, by pouring water from helicopters. It is not clear where this water is falling,” Gennady Pshakin from the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering in the city of Obninsk told Reuters. “They need to start circulation pumps, at least one, maybe not at a full capacity, but I am not sure they have enough power. Diesel generators and mobile power stations which they sent there do not have enough capacity.” He added that it was not going to become another Chernobyl, saying that it was a “totally different situation”.

1700 CET: About 300 tons of water has been sprayed so far by helicopter and fire trucks. It is now 1 am Friday in Japan and there is little fresh news. But this is a case of “no news is good news”. There are no reports of any increased radiation levels but this kind of “stability” can be deceptive.  Helicopter water drops are planned again for Friday. The power line to restore high voltage power is still being installed and is taking longer than expected but is still expected to be ready on Friday. The cooling systems still have to be repaired before they can be restarted.

So far in terms of death and destruction the Fukushima nuclear plant is a pinprick compared to what has happened further north. But the spectre of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and of Tjernobyl elsewhere is probably what leads to the imbalance in the coverage. But unfortunately it is probably diverting some attention and resources from those in need.

1400 CET: At least 20 of the workers risking their lives at the Fukusima Dai-ich nuclear plant are suuffering from exposure to radiation.

Water shot out from the military trucks seem to have reached their target judging from the steam that was generated which in turn means that some cooling must have occurred. Apparently the military trucks are more effective than the fire trucks since the water cannons can be operated from within the safety of the cab. The effect on radiation levels is small so far.

They are hoping to connect the plant to external power during Thursday.

1240 CET: Breaking – Radiation levels have shot up after the shooting of water from water cannon. This may mean that the water is reaching its target and is evaporating on contact with the overheated spent fuel.

TEPCO Press conference.  Tepco spokesmen mainly repeat questions but provide no answers. One said that they had existing procedures in the Crisis Management Plan and they followed all procedures.  The spokesman only gave me the impression that since this accident is not in the book they had no idea what to do. Hardly any new information. No idea how much water the helicopters dropped. No information on the progress of the new power line. No information about the use of water cannon for cooling. A generally inept performance by TEPCO.

Some history from Reuters about TEPCO:

Five TEPCO executives resigned in 2002 over suspected falsification of nuclear plant safety records and five reactors were forced to stop operations.

In 2006, the government ordered TEPCO to check past data after it reported finding falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988, and that the tweaked data was used in mandatory inspections at the plant, which were completed in October 2005.

1200 CET: First attempt with the police riot truck water cannon was broken off due to high radiation levels. Another attempt is being made to shoot cooling water into the spent fuel ponds starting about 30 minutes ago.

The risk for a blackout in Tokyo seems to have been averted as the the evening load period comes to an end.

1000 CET: So far Tokyo has averted a blackout situation – but demand came close to the limit.

Radiation readings on this Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) site.

The Defence Minister said that he “expected” the cooling water actions to “be successful”.  The water cannon fire trucks are all from the Tokyo police or from the SDF. This sounds as if the cooling efforts have now been taken away from TEPCO and handed over to the military. TEPCO seems to be continuing with efforts to restore power to the plant with a new power line.

0900 CET: No further word about the fire trucks and the water cannon. 11 more fire trucks are on their way.

An unprecedented massive blackout could take place in Tokyo on Thursday evening. Trains have been asked to reduce services and the authorities are asking for all to avoid using power if possible.

0800 CET: US unmanned aircraft from Guam have taken pictures over the plant which have been supplied to Japan. None of the evacuees from the area have needed decontamination says Fukushima prefecture.

TV pictures of the helicopter operation show much of the water spray missing the target buildings.

Kyodo News reports Japanese Government irritation with US statements:

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a congressional hearing, ”There is no water in the spent fuel pool and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”

But a Ground Self-Defense Force chopper, which doused the overheating spent nuclear fuel pool with water Thursday morning at the No. 3 reactor, found that water is left in the pond at the No. 4 unit, according to the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

0700 CET: SDF helicopters have made 4 sorties for dumping water on reactor #3. There is still some water left in the reactor #4 spent fuel pool. Helicopters had lead plates installed for protection during the operations today. Radiation decreased only very slightly as a result and no further helicopter sorties are planned today. The riot police water cannons are expected to be used shortly. Each truck carries only 4 tons of water which is discharged in just one minute. This will require many refillings of the trucks and will take time. Spent fuel pools at reactors #3 and 4 are the priority. For reactors #5 and 6 temperatures are increasing but slowly and boiling will not occur for a few days yet.

The new power transmission line is still being installed. Progress is hindered by having to limit the time workers can spend within the plant. To reactivate the plant’s cooling systems will need the repair of some of the pumps.

0000 CET (midnight): A new power line is being laid to the Fukushima Daiichi plant to help restore the reactor cooling systems: Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) spokesman Naoki Tsunoda has said it is almost complete, and that engineers plan to test it “as soon as possible”, according to the Associated Press. Reviving the electric-powered pumps might allow the engineers to finaly cool the overheated reactors and spent fuel storage ponds.

The IAEA has released information about the temperature of the water in the spent fuel storage pools inside reactors 4, 5 and 6 at Fukushima Daiichi. Spent fuel that has been removed from a nuclear reactor generates intense heat and the water is usually kept below 25C. The IAEA says that the temperature of the pool at reactor 4 was 84C on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday morning, it was 62.7C at reactor 5 and 60C at reactor 6. Current reports say the pools at both reactors 3 and 4 are boiling. Reactor 4’s pool may even be dry.

Kyodo News says that Tokyo police plan to use a water cannon truck to attempt to cool a spent fuel rod pool Thursday in a bid to contain the disaster at the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station in Japan.

The government earlier studied a plan to deploy Ground Self-Defense Force choppers to spray water over the spent fuel pools, but the Defense Ministry said Wednesday afternoon it had given up on the idea due to the high radiation level.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, will operate a Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, possibly on Thursday, to take images of the inside of the building that houses the No. 4 reactor, according to Japanese government sources.

Status by Kyodo News:

Among the six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., part of the No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel, key to enclosing harmful radioactive substances, suffered damage in the pressure-suppression chamber connected to the vessel following Tuesday’s apparent hydrogen explosion.

An estimated 70 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the plant’s No. 1 reactor and 33 percent at the No. 2 reactor, Tokyo Electric said Wednesday.

The cores of the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are believed to have partially melted with their cooling functions lost in the wake of Friday’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Wednesday that the water level had dropped in the No. 5 reactor, which was not in service when the killer quake jolted northeastern Japan, posing the risk of overheating. The agency said it will closely monitor data on the reactor to prevent the problems that occurred at other reactors.

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