'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. Heather

    There is a new fire and now they have issued many new warnings because the radiation levels have gone up drastically. They are warning for citizens to stay inside in a sealed room, do not go outside, do not put laundry outside to dry. Now there is a warning for a large earthquake to hit the area I live in. They really need to evacuate all of the military families!!!!!!

    March 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nibiru

      Heather, Did I here right? Did they just evacuate all reactor workers?

      March 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      what is needed is large diameter pipe and large horsepower pumping of seawater
      think cooling .. on a massive scale
      like a 5 alarm fire in chicago
      spray it down
      also localises otherwise airborn material
      think people .. act
      this situation needs to be taken away from the utility and given to an agressive international team

      March 16, 2011 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Shirley Penner

      God bless you and your family.....Hoping for a speedy recovery for your country..Take care and be well....<3

      March 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • How Wood

      Is it OK to bring laundry in if it's already out?

      March 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr Carl Clavadetscher, Prof Retired, National Defense University

      I want to add an additional question/plea to your post. Earlier this week (Tues?) it was widely reported that Reactor 2 or 3 had a different fuel "mix" than the others, because it included weapons grade plutonium bought from Russia as they disarmed. Now we ask, 'what's the potency period of Cesium (short)'; but nobody is asking, 'What happens if #3 basically really blows and it's the one with the plutonium with a half life of 24,000 YEARS!' That would make Cesium look almost trivial.

      March 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom

      As the radiation levels rise, I can only hope the 50 or so people still manning the site are the same people that designed the backup cooling systems that failed. As a result of the failures of the backup-systems engineers, the world is now overly focused on how dangerous is nuclear power. When in fact the real danger is - allowing crappy engineers to design the backup systems for nuclear plants.

      The engineers that designed that backup cooling system should be the very people now taking on the mission to actually get this site shut down and safe to the rest of the world. Don't dump this responsibility on operations people that had no say in the design of the backup systems!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rita

    If at all possible if they could dump sand on top of the reactors it would cool the temp down and turn the liquid into glass eventually freezing the material into a solid. It may be too late at this point, but my husband has been as glass engineer for over 30 years and believes this could provide a slow down to the melt down.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      well an idea .. not a good one really
      what is needed is large diameter pipe and large horsepower pumping of seawater
      think cooling .. on a massive scale
      like a 5 alarm fire in chicago
      spray it down
      also localises otherwise airborn material
      think people .. act

      March 16, 2011 at 3:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. guty

    I think the situation is out of control ROBOTS NAVY USA must be send to helop NASA TECNOLOGY USED FOR help THAT WILL BE AWSOME

    March 16, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      what is needed is large diameter pipe and large horsepower pumping of seawater
      think cooling .. on a massive scale
      like a 5 alarm fire in chicago
      spray it down
      also localises otherwise airborn material
      think people .. act

      March 16, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Hooper

    More nukes.
    Less kooks.
    Get 'er dun Mr. President...

    March 16, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      Yeah, 'cause 4 melted reactors when you started with only 3 that were actually operating is so reliable that we want more of 'em.

      March 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      George, there are six reactors at Fukushima I. With each comment of yours that I read, I shake my head. Stop pontificating and learn a little.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sheena Charles

    It seems that the seriousness of the nuclear crisis is being downplayed by the people in charge of these plants & it also seems that they were more concerned about saving the reactors than stopping any potential meltdowns-once the cooling systems were disabled they should've started pumping in seawater to cool the reactors down-now we've got a situation that's way past 3 mile island & headed into Chernobyl territory according to Joe Cirincione-He said the situation is made worse by the way the reactors were clustered together-so a disaster at one can avalanche into a complicated disaster next door-it's time to sandbag & encase these reactors in concrete like at Chernobyl and move on without nuclear power!!!

    March 16, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      really wrong
      but understandable
      panic rules those without control
      and cannot be taken seriously
      read comments in other posts

      March 16, 2011 at 4:04 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      Steve, you're a gibbering idiot. Your little seawater idea is moronic. You might as well lob water balloons into a volcano to try to stop it up. All four reactors are toast now, and leaking radiation at a rate that is far too high for humans to get anywhere near them without being killed as a result.

      March 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Actually, George, Steve is right on the money.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    This is a very tense situation. Let us pray that our specialists can control what we the public cannot. God help us please.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Martin

    Earthquakes, a tsunami, more earthquakes, a volcanoe erupting (the most since 1959), nuclear reactors melting down, fires and explosions and more earthquakes.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Same old story, different year.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. raven

    When things like this happen I always try to put myself in the shoes of the victims. That being said, this is just too horrible for me to wrap my mind around much less imagine what I would do . My heart truly breaks everytime I see a new report or update. I admire the strength and dignity these people are displaying in the face of the unknown. My thoughts and highest regards are with them .

    March 16, 2011 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jan

    What about creating a web page like "www.fukushimasolution.org" with posibility to leave comments and files and propagating it all over the world so the world science community could share their ideas about how to stop the nuclear threat.

    March 16, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • madoshi

      And by the time DNS propagates the entire thing will be over and done.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      The world's science communities have already given their suggestions for how to best avoid the nuclear threat.

      March 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mike

    If the global community does not get off it's a** and contain these 6 reactors @ Fukushima Daiichi this will pollute the ocean killing off massive amounts of sea life, which we as humans depend on. This is poised to make 2010's Gulf oil spill look like nothing....

    March 16, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • madoshi

      Had you put any thought into your comment, you would realize that radiation does NOT work that way. The oceans will not be poisoned.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastafarian

      Madoshi: How do you figure? If/when the radioactive isotopes contaminate the surrounding marine life, it will enter the food chain. How does this NOT poison the Pacific?

      March 31, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. mike

    There actually using "water trucks" to haul water to cool the reactors? Thats their solution? Lol.... Thats like trying to put out a raging wildland forest fire with a garden hose! An these are the so called experts?! People, we're in trouble....

    March 16, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. Cvete

    this situation needs to be taken away from the utility and given to an agressive international team
    this situation needs to be taken away from the utility and given to an agressive international team
    this situation needs to be taken away from the utility and given to an agressive international team

    March 16, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • madoshi

      Why? Do we really need MORE people to stand around and watch this thing meltdown? Its happening, and they call it a "chain reaction" for a reason. The cores are lost. There is no getting them back.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. S - 2100 - S

    Ok ! Nobody on earth Panic just yet................................... Ok its time to panic .. "AAAAUAAuuaaaaaahhHHHHHH ! ! !... RUN as far away from these reactors as far you can" !!!!!!! run for your lives...PEOPLE

    March 16, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • katherine

      10 more months and 2012 will be here i am beging to believe what has been said look arond people this whole world is falling apart and we are the ones to blame when will we as americans stand up and protect what we have here a beautiful planet that is all of a sudden falling apart lets git together and stop all this higher powerd goverment desions they make we dont deserve to live this no one does we are all humane help us all.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. scott

    Whatch the gas price rise

    March 16, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. EM

    Its absolutely INSANE that the UN/IAEA does not have an Emergency Nuke disaster team TRAINED to deal with a crisis like this.. This is Obamas version of the Bush Boys Katrina disaster... but on a much worse scale. 12 hours after the Plant started having catasrophic failures they should have had a team of experts on the way there to deal with this potential Armegeddon threat to humanity and all creation. The American people and the people of the world nolonger trust your nuculear energy anymore. You just wait and see all you nuke buisness advocates.. people accross the world will be DEMANDING THESE PLANTS BE SHUT DOWN! YOU HAVE FAILED US ALL IAEA/UN and OBAMA!!!

    March 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • madoshi

      Oh shut up. Stop making this political. This has nothing to do with Obama. More to the point, you can't spell worth a s–t so you really have NO right to judge others. Hypocrite.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • rukidding

      How is this one Obama's fault? Really??? Shut up.

      March 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
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