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Water Cannons Enlisted In Japan's Nuclear Reactor Crisis

Paresh Dave |
March 16, 2011 | 11:38 p.m. PDT

Deputy Editor

Via Twitter user TTBTS_NEWS.
Via Twitter user TTBTS_NEWS.

Two military helicopters with water buckets and 11 trucks outfitted with water cannons took aim Thursday at Fukushima nuclear power plant's reactor number three, combining in a drastic effort to avert a full-scale nuclear meltdown.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas said the helicopter effort was suspended after four flights because only one hit its target. "Given that more than a hundred would be required to hit dead-on to fill the reactors with enough water to cool the rods, it is – forgive the phrase – a bit of drop in the ocean at the moment," Thomas reported.

Japanese officials said Thursday morning that they are close to returning a power supply to the reactors, which would allow them to restart the regular cooling process. When an earthquake and tsunami leveled much of the nearby seaboard last week, other measures had to be taken to keep the fuel roads cooled. Aftershocks were still rocking the region Thursday afternoon.

The situation at reactor number three has taken precedence over the five other reactors because of high pressure readings inside and white smoke emerging on the outside suggests water is quickly evaporting from the cooling. A water drop could not be made on Wednesday because radiation levels were too high. Officials said the levels had steadily declined overnight, but their optimism was constrasted with suggestions from U.S. experts that Americans stay four times as far away from the reactors as the Japanese were requiring.

Serious damage has been recorded at reactors one, two and three. In reactor four, old nuclear fuel rods resting in pools of sixty feet of water may be sitting in an empty bath. Exposure to air would cause the fuel rods to heat up, burn and send a steady, sustained amount of radiation into the atmosphere.

"We believe that around the reactor site there are high levels of radiation," Gregory Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.  "It would be very difficult for emergency workers to get near the reactors. The doses they could experience would potentially be lethal doses in a very short period of time."

Reported the New York Times:

On Thursday morning a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power, the Daiichi plant operator, and a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency, denied Mr. Jaczko’s account, saying the situation at reactor No. 4 had not changed and that water remained in the spent fuel storage pool. But both officials said the situation was changing and that the reactor had not been inspected in recent hours.

"We can’t get inside to check, but we’ve been carefully watching the building’s environs, and there has not been any particular problem," said Hajime Motojuku, the spokesman for Tokyo Electric.

Japan continued to evacuate residents within 12 miles of the reactors and provide them with potassium iodide pills to counteract any negative effects of radiation. U.S. military personnel around Japan were among those taking pills after they were recorded with higher than normal radiation levels. The state department suggested the country's diplomats and their families in Japan evacuate (about 600 people). The military was expected to send a high-altitude drone over the reactors to get a reading of the situation.

The 9.0-earthquake that hit last week added two meters to the gap between Japan and the Korean peninsula. It has caused at least $200 billion in damge, scared off stock investors across the world and left more than 5,200 people dead and nearly 10,000 more missing. More than two millions lacked either running water or electricity. From India to France, dozens of countries have told their citizens to flee Japan.

Even China, a ferocious builder of infrastructure, said he would suspend its approvals of nuclear power plants until they can be deemed absolutely safe.

Experts from the U.S. Energy Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency were expected to arrive in Japan later Thursday to provide help in assessing the situation at the power plant. Working with the power plant operators, the agencies must decide whether to continue stopgap cooling measures, let the fuel burn and contain the radiation or work to restore broader cooling measures.

Reach deputy editor Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



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