Japan Nuclear Disaster Update March 14

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | March 15, 2011 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

Events continue to escalate in Japan as an apparent hydrogen explosion rocks the outer structures of reactor Unit 3 in Japan on Monday at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, as occurred previously at reactor Unit 1. The situation became even more dire in Japan early Tuesday1 morning as reactor Unit 2, which had not been the focus of earlier concerns, apparently begins to suffer a partial meltdown. A breaking New York Times report states that the inner steel reactor containment vessel of reactor Unit 2 may have been damaged during a third explosion, different than the two hydrogen blasts that occurred at the other two reactors. The reported evacuation of plant workers is a horrible sign that the situation has become extremely dangerous. Earlier, the New York Times reported that workers at the site were having trouble injecting seawater into the reactor because of malfunctioning vents. These vents are used to release the pressure that is building in the vessel. With no way to release the pressure and continued difficulty getting coolant to the fuel rods, a major radioactive release becomes more likely.

Here are some new resources to help understand and decipher what is occurring:

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists has developed a series of fact sheets on the ABCs of Japan’s nuclear disaster to help people better understand how reactors work, what happens when an accident occurs and more. Don’t forget their blog that provides a technical analysis of what is occurring;
  • Beyond Nuclear has maps, news clips, videos and more;
  • See video of the dramatic explosion and an updated fact sheet on developments by NIRS; and
  • The UK’s Guardian reports that concerns are being raised that government authorities and utility executives in Japan may not be forthcoming in sharing crucial information given past ‘cover-ups.’ They also have a list of nuclear power plant incidents/accidents worldwide listed and ranked since 1952.

As the world watches Japan, the recent push to build new reactors around the globe is being called into question. In the U.S., Congressman Ed Markey released a press statement urging national attention to this issue and sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to halt all new nuclear projects until a top-to-bottom assessment of our emergency preparedness is evaluated, structural reinforcements are retrofitted on existing reactors and all threats from earthquakes to terrorism are fully evaluated.

Of greatest concern to Congressman Markey is the apparent lack of agreement by federal agencies as to which one is responsible for emergency response in the event of a nuclear disaster. He writes: “a review of internal documents made public through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Inside EPA indicates that it appears that no agency sees itself as clearly in command of emergency response in a nuclear disaster. These materials indicate that: EPA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are not in agreement about which Federal agency would lead efforts to respond to and clean up a large-scale radiation release caused by an accident at or attack on a nuclear reactor.”

While the worsening situation in Japan may cause major concern for many, Tom Fanning (chief executive of Southern Company) expects that plans to build two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia will continue on schedule and says that Southern Company remains committed to building the proposed $14 billion reactors.

We will continue to hold Japan in our hearts and minds as we monitor further developments.

1 – Note there’s a 13 hour time difference between Japanese Standard Time and Eastern Standard Time in the US.

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