Desperate attempts are being made to cool a Japanese nuclear power plant crippled by the country’s huge earthquake and tsunami – but indications are that one of its uranium reactors has at least partially melted.
And last night, a top Government official warned that a meltdown in the third of the plant’s three reactors was “highly possible”.
Radioactive caesium, one of the elements released when overheating damages the core of a nuclear reactor, was detected around the Fukushima Daiichi power station, 270km northeast of Tokyo.
This indicated that a meltdown, caused by a nuclear reaction running out of control, had affected the fuel rods in the power station’s No 1 reactor, although possibly only to a limited extent.
At another site, Japanese authorities have informed the International Atomic Energy Agency the lowest state of emergency at the Onagawa nuclear power plant has been reported by the Tohoku Electric Power Company.
The alert was declared after radioactivity readings exceeding allowed levels in the area surrounding the plant.
Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA that the three reactor units at the Onagawa nuclear power plant are under control and are looking to find the source of the radiation.
Meanwhile there are possible concerns at a third plant – the Tokai Number two nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture – where one of the two cooling system pumps stopped on Friday following the quake, Kyodo News reported.
However authorities said there are no problems cooling the reactor as the other pump is continuing to work and the reactor core has been cooled without problem.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has approved temporary power outages to prevent a blackout, the Tokyo Times reported.
“If we continue (using electricity at the current level), there is the possibility of an all-out blackout in the area,” Kan said. “The impact of a sudden, large-scale blackout would be immense and we must prevent it at all costs.”
The rolling blackouts are likely to continue till the end of the month.
The prospect of a reactor meltdown overshadowed the wider tsunami disaster and led to 170,000 residents being evacuated from within a 20km radius of Fukushima nuclear plant.
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