'The situation is deteriorating,' expert says of Japan's nuclear crisis
A satellite image of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 14, three days after a quake and tsunami ravaged Japan.
March 15th, 2011
11:44 PM ET

'The situation is deteriorating,' expert says of Japan's nuclear crisis

A look back at Japan's nuclear crisis in the last 24 hours, through CNN.com videos:

The situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has reached a strange state of continual deterioration, international security analyst Jim Walsh says. As it gets worse, "The good news is that the bad news isn't quite as bad as it first looked," he says.

By way of example, he points to Tuesday's fire at a spent fuel pond that was successfully put out, but not before releasing a plume of radioactive smoke into the atmosphere. Or the fire at reactor 4, which prompted fears of a ruptured containment vessel, concerns that have since subsided, Walsh says - for now.

"Things are happening and they look very bad in the beginning. Maybe not as bad as it first looked, but the situation is deteriorating."

As the situation develops day by day, comparisons are being drawn to the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, as analysts look for ways to measure the potential scale of damage.

"This is not going to be a Chernobyl," author William Tucker says. "The Soviets didn't have a containment structure on top of their reactor."

Daiichi does - a massive structure of concrete and steel that sits atop its reactors. When the reactors shut down, an emergency system pumped in water to cool the facility's fuel rods. But the system eventually failed, and so did the backup system when the tsunami hit, leading operators to use seawater to cool the fuel rods.

That doesn't make it any harder to determine the gravity of the situation. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, has been preaching calm, saying that radioactive leaks can be averted. But the company's track record makes it seem less than forthright, critics say.

"The history of Japan's nuclear industry and the government, that is very closely tied with the industry, is less than glorious in regards to public information and full disclosure, and what is going on now is actually an illustration of that," says Arjun Mahkhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

In 2002, TEPCO's president and four executives resigned after it was revealed that repair and inspection records had been falsified.

"It was discovered that TEPCO had  covered up incidents of cracking in an important piece of equipment with the reactors' vessels of all its reactors, and as a result, they were forced to close down all 17 reactors," says Philip White of the Citizens Nuclear Information Center.

Then, in 2007, after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake, TEPCO told the public the plant had suffered a minor fire and leak of a gallon's worth of radioactive water. It later turned out the fire had burned for two hours and hundreds of gallons of radioactive water had leaked into the sea.

"There's a pattern that has emerged that TEPCO isn't frank, and deliberately covers up to protect its own interests," White says.

Meanwhile, the focus in the United States has shifted to how Japan's situation bodes for domestic nuclear energy development. Lobbyists are hard at work in Washington to assuage fears that America's nuclear plants - some of which rely on the same backup power for cooling systems that failed in Japan - are unprepared for disasters of similar magnitude.

"We're trying to make sure people understand exactly what's occurring, understand the context in which they're going to be making decisions in the future about the way Congress wants to treat nuclear energy," says Alex Flint, a lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says America should  continue nuclear power development.

"The (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has its own schedule and they will be looking very closely at developments in Japan," he said Tuesday. "I think we're in good hands."

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Japan • Nuclear
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Smedley

    The number of scared, ignorant people commenting in this thread is more frightening than radiation.

    April 8, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. nuke worker

    Having worked in a nuke facility for 12 years now, you guys are all wrong. throw water on it.lol that would be like spitting on a large campfire.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cocopuf

    I believe it is TOO LATE for adding large amounts of sea water to cool the rods (that will also contaminate the sea water as it returns the sea) - That will not solve the situation nor the radiation leakage. Best to figure out a way to properly SEAL each REACTOR just like at Chernobyl.
    One lesson we can learn from this so far, is that you don't want to build reactors anywhere near each other, and especially far from known earthquake zones.
    The other lesson is that regardless of how much safety you include, we humans are incapable of handling such carastophes that includes severe eartquakes.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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