Oh boy: Radiation levels soaring at damaged Japanese nuclear plant, pressure out of control; Update: Just hours left to prevent meltdown?
March 11, 2011
It’s not a Three Mile Island situation yet, let alone a Chernobyl, and given the fact that the reactors are covered with containment vessels (which Chernobyl wasn’t), it’s unlikely to get quite that bad. But Dow Jones is now reporting that the local electric company says it’s “lost control over pressure in the reactors,” and stories on the wires an hour ago claimed that radiation levels in the control room at the plant have reached 1,000 times their normal level. And so one of the worst days in Japanese history may be about to turn worse still.
This Reuters piece explains the problem concisely. In a nutshell, the reactors are overheating because they can’t pump coolant into them. So massive was the quake that virtually all of the plant’s power sources are offline; no power means no pump means no coolant, which means the cores are going to get hotter and hotter. As you’ll see below, they do have emergency diesel systems available to get some coolant in there, but it sounds like that may succeed only in slowing the pace of the overheating, not reversing it. Potentially, it may get so hot that it melts down; in the near term, the heat in the chamber will produce radioactive steam, which will have to be released into the atmosphere or else the chamber could blow.