'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. peteyroo

    As long as we're talking about mythical beings.........Let's ask the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus to help God solve this mess, or at least save us.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • KOZ

      YOUR BRAIN is a mythical being!

      March 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • katherine

      i was not trying to make this poltical its just a shame people like you is what is wrong with this world today think you know it all..

      March 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lil Dave

    All posts above mine & below mine are given by experts. Where would we be without these experts. 🙂

    March 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lil Dave

    p.s. I don't understand why everyone is making all these profound gastrointestinal remarks about a situation that IS NOT that big of a deal. Let's not forget that the United States exploded 331 (three hundred thirty one) nukes above ground before banning. Know how many millions of pounds of radio active junk went into the air after that??? Answer = lots. And let's not forget that solar activity causes radio active compounds to deteriorate EXPONENTIALLY in short amounts of time.
    Have a good nights sleep & don't get caught up in all the "managed" confusion by the "managers". Someone is real interested in how you think, so they're helping you think about it.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wil

      Dude, that's just crazy talk. Stop making sense!

      March 16, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      What you say makes sense but again, 'bad' is a relative term, and we have learned a huge amount about the effects of radiation since the tests in Nevada finally stopped. The fact that ANY radiation was released shows that we are on a scale equalling Chernobyl – it might not be in a populated area near a major land mass, but fuel rods exposed to air release massive radiation, and that's what's happening. The fact that it's not happening in your back yard doesn't mean that it's any less important – we need to figure out a way to act and stop this before it gets any worse. It's time to stop thinking about ourselves and concentrate on this situation as if it were our own – not at least because one day it could happen in the US, and we would need to know how to stop it. And if anyone still believes that praying will make the slightest bit of difference, go right ahead – but know that we're in the real world now... no more fantasy.

      March 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Spock

    @banasy. Hi Donna

    March 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. i rock

    Whats insane is all the mamby pamby wusses that are drama queens! grow a pair you wimps

    March 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. madoshi

    Stop spamming the "high horsepower pump 5 alarm fire in Chicago" garbage. They knew going into it that the instant they started cooling w/ sea water they were only buying evacuation time. That seawater is degrading the already fragile rod casings and between the heat and corrosion, they are already splitting open and dropping their fuel marbles.

    Nobody assumed that seawater was a permanent fix. It actually makes the rod casings decay FASTER...but keeps them cool long enough to get more people out.

    Steve...stop spamming this as an actual fix. Its not. They are WAY past a fix. Nothing will fix this...now its just a matter of buying as much time as they can before full meltdown.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. madoshi

    Also PLEASE keep in mind that a nuclear plant melting down is nowhere NEAR the same as an air-burst nuclear weapon explosion. Different isotopes, different fallout behavior...apples and oranges. I get the feeling that a lot of the public are thinking that fallout is fallout is fallout. Its not.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Thank you (honestly) for the clarification. I've done my research and found you are right on.

      March 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. madoshi

    Blog spam. Reported as abuse.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lil Dave

    Dig dem meltdownz. Like the Atoll thermo nuke which created a crator in excess of 6000 feet in diameter and a couple hundred feet deep. That'd be like a giant earth scooper scooping up all of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant & then regurgitating into the atmosphere.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. me

    Does this mean the radiation will hit the west coast and finally get rid of those idiots?! fan the flames!

    March 16, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mike

    I think they said the reactor was breached......does this mean the cooling water will be contaminated? So, if extra water was brought in it would be tainted?

    March 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mike

    wouldn't just a generator be enough? Or is the water scrubbed and filtered after cooling to cleanse it? (I'm sorry,....Godzilla? too many sequels?

    March 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dore

    This is a tragedy.. the poor men in the plant.. my prayers are with them. How very sad for them and their families.

    March 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wytnyt

    your talking about peoples lives with your rude comments
    what if it wee your mom,dad,son ect...

    March 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Theresa

    I wish some expert would tell me at this point if my family members will be ok in Okinawa or should they get the heck out of there back to the USA?

    March 17, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
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