Top US Officials: Japan Nuclear Reactor #4 Completely Breached, In Full Meltdown, Releasing Lethal Radiation – US Expands Evacuation Area To 50 Miles

Top US Officials: Japan Nuclear Reactor #4 Completely Breached, In Full Meltdown, Releasing Lethal Radiation – US Expands Evacuation Area To 50 Miles

Top US officials have testified before congress today that situation in Japan has a reached a catastrophe of proportions on par with Chernobyl. Both the Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Gregory B. Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave dire testimony before the The House Energy and Commerce committee.

At this point both the primary and secondary containment vessels at the Fukushima nuclear reactor #4 are breached. To make matters worse radiation readings taken by the US indicate that the cooling pond is empty indicating the fuel rods are in a state of complete meltdown with no cooling to counteract the meltdown in progress.

The latest reports out of Japan are that plant operations have been once again suspended due to the extremely high lethal levels of radiation coming out of the plant. Helicopters that were dumping water and boric acid onto the plant from the air have been called off as well. The news comes on the heels that the US has issued a 50 mile evacuation zone around the plant.

Highlights of the testimony from the NY Times:

Radiation levels outside of the plant are lethal within a very short period of time.

Representative Michael Burgess, Republican of Texas, asked for detail about the radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant. “Are we talking about radiation equivalent to a chest X-ray? A CAT scan?’’ he asked.

Mr. Jaczko replied, “Levels that would be lethal with a fairly short period of time.’’

“It’s certainly a more recent development than we’ve seen, these very, very high readings,’’ the commission chairman said.

US Embassy tells all Americans within 50 miles to evacuate the area.

The American Embassy in Tokyo has told American to evacuate to a radius of “approximately 50 miles” from Fukushima, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified before the House subcommittee, based on advice from the commission.

The advice reflects a far more grave assessment of the situation at the stricken reactors than the decisions made by the Japanese themselves do; the Japanese have told everyone within 20 kilometers, about 12 miles, to evacuate, and those between 20 and 30 kilometers, or about 19 miles, to take shelter. And the recommendation comes as the Japanese government has indicated that it will be releasing less information about the situation.

The recommendation was based on what the commission would do “for a comparable sitiuation in the U.S.’’ said the chairman, Gregory Jaczko.

A complete meltdown at reactor#4 has caused the cooling pond to boil completely dry.

Mr. Jaczko (pronounced YAZZ-koe) said the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 had boiled dry and that as a result, “we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”

In fact, experts say that it would be hard to approach a pool that was dry because radiation levels would be so high, he said. In a normally operating pool, the water provides not only cooling but radiation shielding.

It should be noted that TEPCO has only acknowledged that reactor #4 is not completely empty, but is 25% full. However as CNN is reporting the company has a history of covering up nuclear disasters and falsifying reports.

Shortage of information from Japanese Officials on Breach In Containment Vessels

Without saying so directly, Dr. Chu left the impression that the Japanese, who are saying less in public lately about the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, are saying less in private too.

In response to a question from Representative Doris O. Matsui, a Democrat from the Sacramento area, about what would happen if there were a complete meltdown, Dr. Chu replied, “We think there is a partial meltdown, but as you correctly noted, that doesn’t necessarily mean the containment vessel will fail. (In fact, Japanese officials say that the containments at two of the reactors appear to have failed.)

“We are trying to monitor it very closely,’’ he said. “We hear conflicting reports about exactly what is happening in the several reactors now at risk. I would not want to speculate about what is happening. Let’s just say we monitor it very closely and we will take it as it comes.’’

Similar Chernobyl Style Event Could Happend In US

Henry A. Waxman, the Californian who is the ranking Democrat, said that in a way, Japan’s crisis was more frightening than the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine.

“After Chernobyl, many said such an event could not happen in the U.S., because the Soviet Union’s nuclear sector was not as advanced as our own,’’ Mr. Waxman said. “But Japan is a highly developed country. It is as technologically sophisticated as us, and there’s much concern in the U.S. that a similar accident could could here. How do you respond to that concern?”

Dr. Chu agreed. There are, he said, “a number of reactors in the U.S. with similar designs, and we’re going to look at what went wrong in terms of this double-barreled blow of this huge, huge earthquake amid this huge tsunami.”

Japan Incident Worse Than Three Mile Island

Mr. Whitfield asked why Three Mile Island was rated by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a Level 5 accident on its seven–point scale, while a person standing at the site boundary received an amount of radiation equivalent to something between a chest x-ray and a CAT scan. The international agency still rates Fukushima a notch below that.

Dr. Chu replied: “The Japan incidents actually appear to be more serious than Three Mile Island. To what extent, we don’t know now. “

“We don’t really know in detail what’s happening,’’ he said. One of the reasons for sending American experts, he added, was “for our own sake, to know what is really happening, directly, through our own instruments.

We don’t know if Japan ‘will be able to avoid catastrophic releases’

“As we’ve learned just in the last few days from what’s happened in Japan, we can expect unexpected events to occur, and we have to maximize safety,’’ he said. “I, for one, do not believe we can meet our future demands of energy without nuclear playing a vital role in that.’’’

Henry A. Waxman, the ranking Democrat, was harsher. “During the last year we’ve had wake-up call after wake-up call warning us that we need a new energy policy,’’ he said, citing the coal disaster in West Virginia last year and the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. And, he said, “We don’t know yet whether Japan will be able to avoid catastrophic releases.”

“We should be investigating the safety and preparedness of U.S. energy facilities,’’ he said. “After all these energy catastrophes, it should be obvious we should be pursuing a new energy policy.’’

“It should not take a nuclear meltdown to make us face reality,’’ he said.

More on evacuations issues by the US and other nations.

The United states has issued an 80 KM  or 50 mile evacuation zone for citizens and military member around Japan’s Fukishima Nuclear reactor plants.

U.S. Urges Wider No-Go Area Around Nuclear Plant

TOKYO — The United States told its citizens and military personnel on Wednesday to stay at least 50 miles away from the stricken nuclear plant in northern Japan, a much wider radius of safety than the Japanese government has set for its people.

“We are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area, or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical,” the American Embassy in Tokyo said in its statement to civilians. Separately, American military personnel have been told that unless they are given specific orders to the contrary, they should not go within 50 miles of the plant on the ground or in the air.

The American recommendation to stay outside a 50-mile radius came after a review of radiation data by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and was based on what the commission would recommend “in a comparable situation in the U.S.,” its chairman, Gregory Jaczko, said on Wednesday.

The increased evacuation zone issue by the United states highlights the increasing sense of international skepticism that Japan is downplaying the magnitude of the disaster.

The divergent advice on the safe distance to keep from the power plant reflected the spreading anxiety in Japan and around the world about the unfolding nuclear disaster. Neighboring nations scoured atmospheric data for any sign of radiation blowing their way, expatriates prepared to relocate away from the plant or leave Japan entirely, and jittery investors sold stocks heavily, pushing major market indexes down sharply for a third day.

The UK and Switzerland, for example, has issued an advisory for its citizens to evacuated all areas of Japan north of the capitol city of Tokyo, including Tokyo itself according to Reuters and Kyodo news. China began mass evacuations of its citizens yesterday.

Update 8:04 PM EST

Finally getting updates on the web about this story.

Official: Spent fuel rods exposed, heightening concerns

  • NEW: “Extremely high” levels of radiation, says NRC chief
  • NEW: Situation is “very, very serious,” says nuclear expert
  • Japanese and U.S. governments give different evacuation advice
  • IAEA chief plans an overnight trip to Japan, says damage to cores of 3 units is confirmed

Tokyo (CNN) — Spent fuel rods in Unit 4 of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been exposed, resulting in the emission of “extremely high” levels of radiation, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday.

“What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool,” Gregory Jaczko told a House energy and commerce subcommittee hearing. “We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool, and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”

The water served to both cool the uranium fuel and shield it. But once the uranium fuel was no longer covered by water, its zirconium cladding that encases the fuel rods heated, generating hydrogen, said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former official with the Department of Energy.

Photographs of the building released Wednesday by the power company showed a hole in a wall and deterioration of the roof.

A Japanese Self-Defense Force helicopter aborted its mission to drop water over the reactor because of the high radiation levels in the area, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

That caught fire, resulting in a situation that is “very, very serious,” he told CNN. He said the next solution may involve nuclear plant workers having to take heroic acts. Asked to be more specific, he said, “This is a situation where people may be called in to sacrifice their lives. … It’s very difficult for me to contemplate that but it’s, it may have reached that point.”

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