Radiation surge forces workers to retreat

Japan ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear power complex Wednesday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool overheating reactors.

This image made available from Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo News

This image made available from Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo News

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Japan ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear power complex Wednesday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool overheating reactors.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers, who were dousing the reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilize their temperatures, had no choice except to withdraw.

“The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,” Edano said. “Because of the radiation risk we are on standby.”

Radiation levels had gone down by later Wednesday, but it was not immediately clear if the workers had been allowed back in.

The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, which pulverized Japan’s northeastern coastline. Officials believe at least 10,000 people were killed, and possibly many more.

Since then, authorities have been struggling to avert an environmental catastrophe at the coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles (220 kilometres) north Tokyo.

Wednesday’s radiation spike was apparently the result of a release of pressure that had built up in one of the reactors, officials said, though it was not immediately clear which one. Steam and pressure build up in the reactors as workers try to cool the fuel rods, leading to controlled pressure releases through vents — as well as uncontrolled explosions.

Officials had originally planned use helicopters and fire trucks to spray water in a desperate effort to prevent further radiation leaks and to cool down the reactors.

“It’s not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,” Edano said.

“We are actually supplying water from the ground, but supplying water from above involves pumping lots of water and that involves risk. We also have to consider the safety of the helicopters above,” he said.

A U.S. nuclear expert said he feared the worst.

“It’s more of a surrender,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who now heads the nuclear safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an activist group. “It’s not like you wait 10 days and the radiation goes away. In that 10 days things are going to get worse.”

“It’s basically a sign that there’s nothing left to do but throw in the towel,” Lochbaum said.

Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help, though he did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether to accept offers of help from other countries.

The government has ordered some 140,000 people in the vicinity to stay indoors. A little radiation was also detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.

There are six reactors at the plant. Units 1, 2 and 3, which were operating last week, shut down automatically when the quake hit. Since then, all three have been rocked by explosions. Compounding the problems, on Tuesday a fire broke out in Unit 4’s fuel storage pond, an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool, causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere.

Units 4, 5 and 6 were shut at the time of the quake, but even offline reactors have nuclear fuel — either inside the reactors or in storage ponds — that need to be kept cool.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency estimated that 70 per cent of the rods have been damaged at the No. 1 reactor.

Japan’s national news agency, Kyodo, said that 33 per cent of the fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor were damaged and that the cores of both reactors were believed to have partially melted.

“We don’t know the nature of the damage,” said Minoru Ohgoda, spokesman for the country’s nuclear safety agency. “It could be either melting, or there might be some holes in them.”

Meanwhile, the outer housing of the containment vessel at the No. 4 unit erupted in flames early Wednesday, said Hajimi Motujuku, a spokesman for the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said fire and smoke could no longer be seen at Unit 4, but that it was unable to confirm that the blaze had been put out.

Since then, authorities have tried frantically to avert an environmental catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex in northeastern Japan, 140 miles (220 kilometres) north of Tokyo.

Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help. He did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether and how to take up the various offers of help from other countries.

The surge in radiation was apparently the result of a Tuesday fire in the complex’s Unit 4 reactor, according to officials with Japan’s nuclear safety agency. That blast is thought to have damaged the reactor’s suppression chamber, a water-filled pipe outside the nuclear core that is part of the emergency cooling system.

Officials had originally planned use helicopters and fire trucks to spray water in a desperate effort to prevent further radiation leaks and to cool down the reactors.

“It’s not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,” Edano said.

“We are actually supplying water from the ground, but supplying water from above involves pumping lots of water and that involves risk. We also have to consider the safety of the helicopters above,” he said.

A U.S. nuclear expert said he feared the worst.

“It’s more of a surrender,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who now heads the nuclear safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an activist group. “It’s not like you wait 10 days and the radiation goes away. In that 10 days things are going to get worse.”

“It’s basically a sign that there’s nothing left to do but throw in the towel,” Lochbaum said.

The government has ordered some 140,000 people in the vicinity to stay indoors. A little radiation was also detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.

There are six reactors at the plant, and the three that were operating at the time have been rocked by explosions. The one still on fire was offline at the time of the magnitude 9.0 quake, Japan’s most powerful on record.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency estimated that 70 per cent of the rods have been damaged at the No. 1 reactor.

Japan’s national news agency, Kyodo, said that 33 per cent of the fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor were damaged and that the cores of both reactors were believed to have partially melted.

“We don’t know the nature of the damage,” said Minoru Ohgoda, spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA. “It could be either melting, or there might be some holes in them.”

Meanwhile, the outer housing of the containment vessel at the No. 4 unit erupted in flames early Wednesday, said Hajimi Motujuku, a spokesman for the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

NISA said fire and smoke could no longer be seen at Unit 4, but that it was unable to confirm that the blaze had been put out.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
A Quebec Superior Court justice is set to issue a ruling Tuesday on the constitutionality of the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21. People hold up signs during a demonstration against Bill 21 in Montreal, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Quebec judge to rule today on challenge to Quebec’s secularism law, known as Bill 21

Four separate lawsuits challenging Bill 21 merged into one trial

Nearly five per cent of Alberta businesses did not survive the first 10 months of the pandemic. (Black Press File photo).
Nearly 5% of Alberta businesses closed during 2020 pandemic

Will more closures happen before it’s over?

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Letters
Letter: Restrictions have nothing to do with religion

Many have framed the closure of GraceLife Church near Edmonton by Alberta… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Thanking volunteers in Red Deer

National Volunteer Week is April 18 to 24. At the Canadian Cancer… Continue reading

Letter to the editor
Letter: Good on MLAs for speaking out

This is a letter in regard to MLAs not standing united behind… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
Family: Happiness can be found in many ways

I’ve heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention. I… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Most Read