Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crisis Continues In Japan As Relief Efforts and Nuclear Emergency Take Toll

How to help.

The death toll continues rising, and is over 3,600, and the number of missing is still over 8,000 as hope fades for finding more survivors. Half a million people are without homes and getting aid to the stricken areas is complicated not only by damaged roads, washed out bridges, and debris fields that stretch on as far as the eye can see, but snow, rain, and the radiation danger from the damaged Fukushima reactors is omnipresent on the minds of Japanese and the rescue crews sent in to the area to look for victims and assisting survivors. It's a herculean effort to get supplies into the damaged areas even without worrying about a nuclear crisis.

The damage from the quake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency is likely to cost upwards of $200 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history, and it puts tremendous pressure on the Japanese government.
The stricken reactors continue to vex operators trying to get the pressure and temperatures under control. After considering using helicopters to dump water on the damaged reactors, operators have turned to using water cannons as used in riot control to spray water on the reactors because of the radiation danger posed to helicopter crews.

There are further reports that a second reactor at the stricken nuclear power complex was damaged and may be leaking radiation. Reactor 2 has been the focus of scrutiny since an explosion rocked that reactor facility and appears to have damaged the suppression chamber that holds the water and steam necessary to cool the reactor core. While experts believe that the containment structures at reactors 1 and 3 are intact, they aren't sure about the damaged reactor 2.
As a result of the explosions, radioactivity levels rose sharply around the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Tuesday. The Nuclear Energy Institute reported that a dose rate of 1.19 rems per hour was observed at the site boundary and dose of 40 rems per hour was seen close to the plant (a rem is a measure of biological damage to tissue). The 1.19 rem reading dropped to about 0.06 rems per hour later in the day, however.

The readings are considered high, engineers said. On average, individuals are subjected to about 0.6 rems per year. Nuclear power plant workers are typically limited to about 5 rems per year. According the 1982 book, Nuclear Power: Both Sides by Michio Kaku, 1,000 rems would kill a person a few days after exposure, 500 rems would kill half of the exposed population within a few weeks, 200-400 rems would cause radiation sickness and hemorrhaging, and 50 rems would cause no immediate visible effects, but could induce long-term damage.
As if all that wasn't enough, a fire was detected at a fourth reactor at Fukushima, which lasted for about 30 minutes before it was put out.

TEPCO reports that they're continuing to inject sea water into Unit 1, along with boric acid to soak up the neutron emissions that release the heat that is causing the pressure to rise - and raising the risk of further explosions and breach of containment. As for the other reactors:
*Unit 2
At 1:25 pm, March 14th, since the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling System has failed, it was determined that a specific incident stipulated in article 15, clause 1 occurred (failure of reactor cooling function). At 5:17 pm, while the water level in the reactor reached the top of the fuel rod, we have restarted the water injection with the valve operation. At approximately 6:14 am, March 15th, the extraordinary sound was confirmed near the suppression chamber and the pressure inside the chamber decreased afterwards. It was determined that there is a possibility that something extraordinary happened in the suppression chamber. While sea water injection to the reactor continued, TEPCO employees and workers from other companies not in charge of injection work started tentative evacuation to a safe location. Sea water injection to the reactor is still under operation.

*Unit 3
At 6:50 am, March 14th, while water injection to the reactor was under operation, the pressure in the reactor containment vessel increased to 530 kPa. As a result, at 7:44 am, it was determined that a specific incident stipulated in article 15, clause 1 occurred (abnormal increase of the pressure of reactor containment vessel). Afterwards, the pressure has gradually decreased (as of 9:05 am, 450 kPa).

At approximately 11:01 am, March 14th, an explosion followed by white smoke occurred near Unit 3. 4 TEPCO employees and 3 workers from other companies (all of them are conscious) have sustained injuries and they were already dispatched to the hospital by ambulances.

*Unit 4
At approximately 6:00 am, March 15th, an explosive sound occurred and the damage in the 5th floor roof of Unit 4 reactor building was confirmed. At 9:38 am, the fire near the north-west part of 4th floor of Unit 4 reactor building was confirmed. At approximately 11:00 am, TEPCO employee confirmed that the fire was off.

Due to the ongoing concerns about the radiation risks and ongoing seismic hazards, the US is warning against travel to Japan. Other countries, including Canada, are issuing similar warnings.

Meanwhile, damage estimates are being tallied for Hawaii and parts of California and Oregon where the tsunami came ashore. In Hawaii alone, damage is estimated at $300 million.

The latest death toll is now 4,255 with more than 9,000 still missing.

The relief efforts are still hampered by bad weather, the ongoing nuclear emergency, and that access to the hardest hit areas is still limited. The task is painstaking and heartbreaking all at once.
“In an earthquake, if it’s within 72 hours and we reach them, they’re likely to be found alive; and in an earthquake, you find them in place and evacuate them,” said Kazutaka Hiramatsu, 48, a Tokyo firefighters’ school official who was helping direct the Shishiori search.

“But because the tsunami carries everything so far away, it’s very difficult to find people. And because it’s a tsunami, when we find them, they are usually already dead.”

Because most victims are neither in their homes nor able to call for help, the search-and-rescue teams that attend most natural disasters are less useful. In this case, the first victims are found and zipped into body bags by the workers sent in to clear paths through the debris fields that the tsunami has left behind.

“The problem,” Mr. Sato said, “is that there’s a lot of water, and a lot of the debris is just too big to move. So our search has become search-and-removal — we have to do it all together.”

Sometimes other homeowners, coming back to pick through the rubble of their belongings, discover the dead. In Kesen-cho, a village in another tsunami-flattened coastal area eight miles northeast of Kesennuma, journalists on Tuesday encountered two victims by a plowed roadside, laid on planks and carefully covered with a beige duvet and a Mickey Mouse bedspread. Bodies also have been recovered at sea by the Japan’s Coast Guard and the United States Navy, which have mounted helicopter searches from ships offshore.

That leaves the most difficult and painstaking work to the squads of searchers from Japan’s military, the Self-Defense Force, and emergency bodies like the Tokyo Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Here in Kesennuma, about 800 searchers are deployed in all, outfitted in mud boots and slickers and carrying the tools of their trade. “We use bars, axes, and breaking tools that look like spurs to lift and turn over debris,” said Keiichiro Horiguchi, one of the Tokyo agency’s searchers. “We break walls and windows, and use metal cutting tools to turn over the tiles that cover the roofs to see if there is anybody beneath.”
The US Navy is continuing to provide search, rescue, and relief assistance. Ships, including the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Essex are involved in the efforts. Via Twitter, the Essex ARG w/ @31stMEU are in the Sea of Japan and are positioning themselves off Sakata to conduct disaster relief operations.

Perhaps, more importantly, the USNS Safeguard has offloaded high-pressure water pumps in Yokosuka for transfer to the Japanese government to be used in getting the situation at Fukushima under control.

Those high pressure water pumps are going to be critical to getting water on the damaged reactors to keep an already dangerous situation from getting even worse.

US officials are extremely concerned and alarmed at the way Japanese officials are handling the crisis at Fukushima - and believe that the spent fuel pool at reactor 4 may be dry - exposing the cores to air - and releasing tremendous amounts of radiation to the point that it can be impossible to approach without being a suicide mission.
"We are all-out urging the Japanese to get more people back in there to do emergency operation there, that the next 24 to 48 hours are critical," the official said. "Urgent efforts are needed on the part of the Japanese to restore emergency operations to cool" down the reactors' rods before they trigger a meltdown.

"They need to stop pulling out people—and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a recognition this is a suicide mission," the official said.

The official said the United States is in very deep consultations with Japanese about the way forward and that the only thing that has been favorable is the wind pattern that is blowing the contaminated material out to sea instead south towards Tokyo and other populated areas, but that can't be counted upon.

The U.S. official says experts believe there is a rupture in two, maybe three of the six reactors at the Fukushima power plant, but as worrisome is the fact that spent fuel rods are now exposed to the air, which means that substances like cesium, which have a long half-life, could become airborne.

"That could be deadly for decades," the official said.

There is a growing concern around the world that a nuclear catastrophic disaster is in the works.

"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen," European Union's energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said today, according to various reports. "Practically everything is out of control. I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come."
Yet, the IAEA director says that things aren't yet out of control.

I'm thinking that no one really knows the true extent of the damage and everyone's resorting to suppositions based on what information they do know (and however outdated that information may be - a pronouncement based on outdated information may lead to a vastly different conclusion than more current information).

Meanwhile, the US is deploying additional radiation sensors in Hawaii to detect potential radiation downwind of the stricken reactors.

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