Emergency workers scanned people for radiation in March.
Two months after an earthquake-caused tsunami caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials
that the situation in one of the four affected reactors is worse than previously claimed. The fuel rods that powered the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are fully exposed and have melted or fallen into the bottom of the steel containment vessel. That vessel is now believed to be far more damaged than previously admitted by TEPCO. In fact, it contains several holes through which water being poured onto the reactor is leaking into the environment. (Link includes a graphic of the situation from Daily Yomiuri
TEPCO learned about the water level of the pressure vessel after workers who entered the reactor building beginning Tuesday adjusted a water-level gauge. Previously, the reading of the water level had remained almost unchanged at about 1.6 meters below the top of fuel rods since immediately after the outbreak of the crisis at the plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
After adjusting the gauge, workers found the actual water level was more than 5 meters below the top of the fuel rods. As the fuel rods are about 4 meters long, they are considered to have been fully exposed above the cooling water, TEPCO said. ...
At the bottom of the steel pressure vessel, which is 16 centimeters thick, the water level is believed to stand at a maximum of only about 4 meters, TEPCO said. The company believes that most of the 190 tons of water injected every day is leaking from the pressure vessel, which is likely to be damaged more seriously than previously thought.
Krista Mahr notes:
The new information about water levels in Unit 1, obtained after workers were able to enter the Unit 1 reactor building and adjust water gauges, now has officials worried that water level readings at Units 2 and 3 may also be wrong. It also throws a wrench in TEPCO's sunny plan of having the crisis at the plant sewn up before the end of the year. And once the utility does achieve cold shutdown in all six reactors, it will face the problem of what to do with the damaged and unstable fuel rods. Whether the company will be able to remove the badly damaged fuel rods from the pressure vessel structures into storage pools, or have to neutralize the rods in situ by pouring cement into the structure, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, a bailout of Tepco that Japan's Cabinet insists is not a bailout was announced Friday. If the plan is approved by the Japanese parliament, taxpayer funds for compensating victims of radiation will most certainly reach tens of billions of dollars. Bank shares fell sharply after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters that public funds would not be provided until TEPCO's lenders waived more of the financially devastated corporation's debts.
The government also announced Friday that it will begin slaughtering starving livestock inside the 12-mile Fukushima evacuation zone because it is logistically too difficult to feed them. Hundreds of cattle and pigs are still believed to be alive in the zone. Tens of thousands of former residents of the no-go zone have not been told when they might be allowed to return to their homes.
But U.S. nuclear power plants are safe, government regulators said in a hearing in Washington Thursday. Thank goodness. It's a great relief to hear it can't happen here since nuclear power plant operators are not required to prepare for the kind of disaster that struck Fukushima.