The first readings from American data-collection flights over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan show that the worst contamination has not spread beyond the 19-mile range of highest concern established by Japanese authorities.
But another day of frantic efforts to cool nuclear fuel in the troubled reactors and in the plant’s spent-fuel pools resulted in little or no progress, according to United States government officials.
Japanese officials said they would continue those efforts, but were also racing to restore electric power to the site to get equipment going again, leaving open the question of why that effort did not begin days ago, at the first signs that the critical backup cooling systems for the reactors had failed.
The data was collected by the Aerial Measuring System, among the most sophisticated devices rushed to Japan by the Obama administration in an effort to help contain a nuclear crisis that a top American nuclear official said Thursday could go on for weeks.
Japan – Japan’s nuclear safety agency says smoke is rising from a building housing a damaged nuclear reactor at a power plant crippled by last week’s tsunami.
A spokesman for Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the smoke was seen rising from Unit 2 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on Friday morning. The spokesman says the agency does not know the cause, but an explosion occurred in Unit 2 earlier in the week, possibly damaging a chamber next to the reactor core.
Meanwhile, the utility that runs the nuclear plant says workers are laying a cable to restore power to the cooling systems. The military is also preparing to spray more water on the plant by helicopter and fire trucks.
US border agents are monitoring travelers from Japan for signs of radiation, but have found no harmful levels to date, the Customs and Border Protection agency said Thursday.
While stressing that it routinely checks all passengers arriving at US ports and airports, the CBP said it had issued guidance to border staff to pay specific attention to those arriving from Japan.
The agency "is monitoring developments in Japan carefully and is specifically assessing the potential for radiological contamination associated with" the quake and tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, it said.
"Out of an abundance of caution, CBP has issued field guidance reiterating its operational protocols and directing field personnel to specifically monitor maritime and air traffic from Japan," it said in a statement.
FUKUSHIMA, Japan – Nuclear plant operators trying to avoid complete reactor meltdowns said Thursday that they were close to completing a new power line that might end Japans crisis, but several ominous signs have also emerged: a surge in radiation levels, unexplained white smoke and spent fuel rods that U.S. officials said could be on the verge of spewing radioactive material.U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in Washington on Wednesday that all the water was gone from the spent fuel pools at Unit 4 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, but Japanese officials denied it. Hajime Motojuku, spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the "condition is stable" at Unit 4.If Jaczko is correct, it would mean theres nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shells of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.
The wind near a quake-damaged nuclear complex in northeast Japan, which has released radiation into the atmosphere, will blow from the northwest and out into the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, a weather official said.
The wind speed will get stronger in the afternoon, blowing as fast as at 12 meters (39.4 ft) per second, said the official at the Japan Meteorological Agency in Fukushima prefecture where the plant is based.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), is about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo on the country’s northeast coast.
Japan raced to avert a catastrophe on Wednesday after an explosion at a quake-crippled nuclear power plant sent radiation wafting into Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said two workers at the Daiichi plant in Fukushima were missing after two more blasts at the facility on Tuesday blew a hole in a building housing a reactor and cooling pool for spent fuel rods.Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km 18 miles of the facility — a population of 140,000 — to remain indoors, as Japan grappled with the worlds most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.Officials in Tokyo — 240 km 150 miles to the south of the plant — said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal at one point but not a threat to human health in the sprawling high-tech city of 13 million people.Toxicologist Lee Tin-lap at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said such a radiation level was not an immediate threat to people but the long-term consequences were unknown."You are still breathing this into your lungs, and there is passive absorption in the skin, eyes and mouth and we really do not know what long-term impact that would have," Lee told Reuters by telephone.Around eight hours after the explosions, the U.N. weather agency said winds were dispersing radioactive material over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries.As concern about the crippling economic impact of the nuclear and earthquake disasters mounted, Japans Nikkei index fell as much as 14 percent before ending down 10.6 percent, compounding a slide of 6.2 percent the day before. The two-day fall has wiped some $620 billion off the market.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the risk of further releases of radioactive material remains "very high," as crews struggle to contain an increasingly critical crisis at a damaged nuclear plant.
Radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have increased to "levels that can impact human health," and anyone within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant should remain indoors, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said soon after Kan spoke.
Nearly all of the plant’s staff — some 800 people — have left, Edano said. Just 50 remain to carry out crucial cooling work.
"There is still a very high risk of further radioactive material coming out," the prime minister said, calling on people to remain calm. "We are making every effort possible so that no further explosion or no further leakage … would happen."
Kan spoke as a new fire burned at the No. 4 reactor at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan.
Japan warned radioactive levels had become "significantly" higher around a quake-stricken nuclear power plant on Tuesday after explosions at two reactors, and the French embassy said a low level radioactive wind could reach Tokyo by the evening.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility north of Tokyo to remain indoors, underscoring the dramatic worsening of Japan’s nuclear crisis, the world’s most serious since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.
As concern about the crippling economic impact of the nuclear and earthquake disasters mounted, Japanese stocks plunged 13 percent – heading for their biggest drop since 1987 — compounding a slide of 7.6 percent the day before. The two-day fall has wiped $720 billion off the market.
In a sign of mounting fears about the risk of harmful radiation, Air China said it had canceled flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Tokyo, but there was no sign that people were rushing en masse to the capital’s airports to leave.
"There has been a fire at the No. 4 reactor and radiation levels in the surrounding area have heightened significantly. The possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening," a grim-faced Kan said in an address to the nation.
Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials.
In a brief address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds were sweeping most of the plume of radioactivity out into the Pacific Ocean, rather than over populated areas.
The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.
It diminished hopes earlier in the day that engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, might yet succeed in cooling down the most damaged of the reactors, No. 2, by pumping in sea water. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while the same crews battled to put out the fire at No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.