'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. Peter

    Large amounts of radioactive seawater, used for cooling the open reactors, are washing into the pacific ocean. All containment of radiation programs over the years have been made useless with this huge release of very high radiation in the atmosphere but also in the pacific.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
    • chloe vanbuskirk

      wind farms.

      chloe vanbuskirk

      March 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Planet X

    May God be with us all. http://nopolicestate.blogspot.com

    March 17, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. jamhoe

    When I worked in the oil field, we used Halliburton to do well servicing for us. They used 10 foot sections of pipe which had a hammer union to connect them together. They were able to withstand very high temperatures and pressures of several thousand psi. Make a skid for the front, connect the pipe, and push in to the contaminated area. You can easily reach several hundred yards because the pipe is very rigid when set up. When you reach the desired area, hook up the fire truck for water cannons and fire up the pumps.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charles

    I believe this is just a coincidence, but it's kind of interesting.

    9/11: 9/11/01
    + + + +
    Earthquake: 3/10/11
    = = = =
    Mayan Stuff: 12/21/12

    So the dates of two of the most catastrophic events in modern countries in the last decade add up to the supposed date (the winter solstice, 2012) of a significant Mayan-calender-based occurrence! The actual apocalyptic nature of this date is in dispute, but to those who believe it will be the end of the world... here's a little more fuel for the fire.

    March 18, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      ok, so the plus and equals signs came out a little whacked. add the dates vertically. add the months together, the days together, and the years together... and there you have it. Months: 9+3= 12 Days: 11+10= 21 Years: 01+11= 12
      .....thus, 12/21/12. 2012!!!

      March 18, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      a coincidence? That you misinformation adds up to 12/21? The earthquake hit on March 11, not March 10. Please try again.

      March 18, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Little Face

      Charles, your math is off. Sweet Jesus




      March 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastafarian

      Charles: Try to think before you hit the little "post" button. Jesus E.f.fing Christ!

      March 31, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Cocopuf

      IF you torture your data long enough, it will confess to anything you would like it to; even doomsday ... lol!!! Grow up ... will you?

      April 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Melissa

    What really concerns me about this situation is our lack of information on this subject yet we constantly see more information on the war in Lybia. We really need to be informed as a whole not just bits and pieces they want us to know we really need to know the whole truth. It seems it's a form of population control and one step closer to one world government. I saw earlier how they are starting construction on underground bunkers if you have 5,000.00 you can reserve a spot. Now to me thats messed up not everyone has 5 grand so if your poor you are screwed and guess what I'm poor so I guess I'm screwed huh.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Enki

    The radiation leakage and contamination continues to get worse the longer this goes on. Wish we could send our spaceships down to pick up your fuel for our use but we're still a couple hundred years away.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dachshundlady

    We have hundreds of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel that is being stored in cooling tanks across the United States: all dependent upon the power grid to keep them cool for hundreds of years! And the amount keeps growing. what would happen to a facility's spent fuel rods in a particular area if the power became disabled for a long period of time, say in a terrorist attack or natural catastrophy? At first, of course the back up generators would kick in. But what happens when the batteries go dead? The gas-powered generators would kick in. But what happens when they can't get shipments of more fuel for them? What if roads were washed out or obstructed by a hurricane or huge earthquake, or even a volcano erupting and throwing mass ammounts of ash into the air and on the ground like Mt. St. Helens? These things are possible. ln fact, with over 200 reactors scattered throughout the country- all with storage pools filled with spent fuel, it is quite likely that a natural or man-made catastrophy will happen near at least one of them sometime in the near future. The results are frightening to think about. We just don't have a safe, permanent and guaranteed way of long term storage of all the spent (and radioactive) fuel that our reactors are producing. Until we do, we need to examine if building still more reactors, but not figuring out what to do with the spent fuel is wise.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Spent fuel is only kept in water for about 3 years. After that it is cool enough for air convection to cool it, and it is stored dry.

      April 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kukulcan

    My Shinoda cousins in Tokyo, if you need to escape to Texas let me know.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  9. cathy

    Can Liquid Nitrogen be used instead of Fresh Water?

    March 25, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cathy

    we are doomed its time to wrap it up thats all

    March 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. William Miller

    User Comments:William Miller
    March 30, 2011 5:21 AM | Reply Considering the potential for disaster in a nuclear power plant they should be built to withstand the largest earthquake possible no exceptions. I know that cost has to be considered in the planning of a power plant. So what is the cost of this one? Environmental damage will with out doubt be in the billions. More than enough to have built the reactors to withstand any eventuality. So was the design tempered by an acceptable risk? Probably and the only reason to do that is profit. That is the Achilles Heel of the nuclear industry. To do all the things necessary to make nuclear reactors safe would be cost prohibitive. In an industry where no one knows what to do and by definition has no plan to deal with meltdowns or large releases of radiation. There can be no compromise in their design.
    Nuclear power is clean efficient power as long as nothing goes wrong. When it does however, and it does, it is arguably the most destructive polluting energy source we have. I believe reactors can be built that are safe. Do I believe they will be, no. Cost is a factor, more disturbing to me I don't believe the experts are as confident as they claim to be. I heard the comment just the other day "who could have foreseen this disaster"? I don't know but someone should have. If we are not at the point in our acquisition of knowledge that we can, then we have no business building nuclear reactors. Until we can prove we have the knowledge to deal with nuclear disasters we have no business operating the ones we do have. Someone needs to take the initiative and bury these now before we all wish we had. The only conceivable reason I can think of not to is some nuclear engineer or utility somewhere really wants this to work, regardless of cost. I'm hoping they will stand back and reevaluate their motivation. Typhoon season is right around the corner, these reactors are no longer built to with stand them.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. brian

    im no expert but why dont they have a better back up system.that seems more important than the plant itself.they should have a cement plant all set up and ready to use immediately.flick a lever and the cement begins to fill the reactors.doesnt seem like $$$ is the problem.whats a few extra million in the long run.fill them with cement and line it with lead and come back in a few thousand years.

    April 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SendEmIn

    Why don't they just use people that already have cancer to manage the plant... they get free treatment and no one gets extra cancer. or drop the cores into a volcano that would take care of them no?

    April 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. amyy

    the new earthquake and tsunami will probably finish it off and we can have a chernobyl x1,000

    April 7, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. amyy

    people that are for nuclear power and people who said that this is not a big deal should be force to clean it up... if at this point it is even cleanupable... make the evil republican party mop it up

    April 7, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
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