Power cable connected to cool Fukushima Daiichi’s No 2 reactor as Japanese officials vow more honesty on disaster


Publish date: March 18, 2011

Written by: Charles Digges

A lingering power crisis to a nuclear reactor cooling system at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi seems, for the time being, to have been fragilely solved as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) have connected a cable to the plant's No 2 reactor in hopes of restoring cooling water operations there.

Japanese officials have meanwhile hit a stride of openness. Late afternoon Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who has made a reputation for himself throughout the crisis by underplaying radiation dangers, admitted the government has acted slowly in supplying reliable and complete information.

“In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster,” he told reporters late Friday in Japan

Cooling system outage’s hit all of the plants six reactors in the hours following the quake, and many sources in Japan expressed their frustration to Bellona Web in email interviews that the operation had taken so long to complete.

Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s nuclear physicist, said TEPCO Friday had successfully attached the cable to reactor No 2 and that it was providing power, citing Reuters. The No 2 unit was chosen because it is though to have suffered less damage than the other reactors desperately in need of coolant.

TEPCO has said it will connect reactor Nos 1 and 4 to a power grid belonging to the Tohoku Electric Power Co 1.5 kilometres away by Sunday. it is unclear whether the cooling systems in reactor buildings battered by a tsunami and then torn apart by hydrogen explosions survived the crisis in good enough shape to be useful.

To an ex-government official in Japan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Bellona Web by email, the connection of electrical power to the coolant pumps, which were downed a week ago when the 9.0 quake and 10-metre tsunami hit, seemed an idea that was late in the coming.

“Maybe TEPCO could have started the connection work [to the Tohoku grid] several days before (…) radiation is not a limitation to this kind of work,” wrote the ex-government official.

Japan’s upgrading Friday of its rating on an international scale measuring the severity of nuclear incidents to a level indicated lethal radiation could escape the gates of the Fukushima Daiichi plant has brought with it a torrent of admissions from officialdom that it should have come clean about the severity of the ongoing crisis.

Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the severity of the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

“It would be a welcome step should Japanese officials continue to provide concrete and timely information about the ongoing crisis,” said Bellona’s Bøhmer. “It would also set a good example for other countries.

The new policy of apparent openness came as Japan finally welcomed US help in stabilizing its overheated, radiation-leaking nuclear complex and raised the accident level for the crisis, putting it on equal footing with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, said the Associated Press, which also weighed in at a Level 5 on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). Only the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 has topped that scale with a 7.

Bucking the disaster on the INE from a 4 – indicating local damage with the plant, to a 5, acknowledging accident that would have repercussions beyond the plant – came after a day of US led radiation detection over-flights of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Americans have said that the worst of the radiation remains contained within the 30 kilometers surrounding the plant, but would not publically reveal any more information, prompting speculation that their readings may finally have nudged the Japanese government to come out of the shadows.  

The French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety said Friday that the radiation released thus far is equal to one-tenth of that released by Chernobyl  – or 5 million Curies of radioactivity, according to Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russian environmental group Ecdofence.

Hideohiko Nishiyama , deputy director general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, also admitted that no one knows if the reactors are coming under control after three days of inundating them with seawater dumped from Helicopters and dousing them with police riot control water cannons.

Of particular concern is reactor No 3, which burns a plutonium and uranium oxide fuel called MOX, and its rods are thought by rescue officials to be exposed after a rupture of the core’s containment vessel. Nishiyama candidly said his agency does not know if the fire is being contained.

“With the water-spraying operations, we are fighting a fire we cannot see,” he said, according to Britain’s Telegraph. “That fire is not spreading, but we cannot say yet that it is under control.”

After Tokyo Electric Power Company Managing Director Akio Komiri cried as he left a conference to brief journalists on the situation at Fukushima, Edano said officials should have admitted earlier how serious the radiation leaks were, the Telegraph reported.

Earlier in the day, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano had called on Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to provide more information about the goings on at the embattled plant.

“This is not something that just Japan should deal with and people of the entire world should co-operate with Japan and the people in the disaster areas,” Amano said, according to reports.

Kan latter pledged to be forthcoming, and told a press conference that,  “Everything has been disclosed to the public. We have shared what we know with the international community about the current situation. It is still very grave.”

A concerted effort to evacuate Americans from the 80 kilometre radius, was underway Friday evening at the urging of the US Embassy after US Nuclear Regulator Commission chief Greg Jaczko suggest that the Japanese evacuation radius should be expanded to from 30 to 80 kilometres.

Britain and Canada were following suit, and in all, some 20,000 resident foreigners have informed the Japanese government that they would like to leave the country, the Guardian reported.