TEPCO – more details emerge

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Japan Plant Pressure Skyrocketed in Early Crisis

Tokyo Electric Power last month permitted container pressure at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s No. 1 reactor to hit twice its intended maximum, possibly facilitating a hydrogen blast that destroyed the reactor’s outer housing and allowed significantly radioactive contaminants to escape into the environment, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday (see GSN, April 22).

(Apr. 25) – Destruction in the exclusion zone around Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, shown earlier this month. Pressure in one plant reactor far exceeded its intended capacity soon after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the site last month, possibly facilitating a hydrogen explosion (Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images).

Japanese atomic energy firms require a lengthier waiting period and far more authorizations than U.S. nuclear companies ahead of an emergency release of reactor vapor that might carry contaminants. The six-reactor Fukushima facility was crippled by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 (Phred Dvorak, Wall Street Journal I, April 23). The confirmed death toll from the events and aftershocks now exceeds 14,000 people, Russia Today reported on Sunday (Russia Today I, April 24).

The No. 1 reactor’s container pressure reached 200 percent its intended maximum at about 2:30 a.m. on March 12, and an additional half-day passed before plant personnel were done venting radiation-tainted vapor from the vessel, the Journal reported. A hydrogen explosion roughly 30 minutes later ripped open the reactor’s outer containment structure; similar blasts rocked the plant’s No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 reactors in the early days of the crisis.

The plant operator’s slow release of container gas might have caused equipment to break open and leak hydrogen from the reactor into the containment structure, according to specialists.

Tokyo Electric Power President Masataka Shimizu last week stood by his firm’s delayed decision to release reactor vapor.

“Venting means you’re affecting the surrounding area,” Shimizu said. “It was imperative we made completely certain that evacuation was taken care of for everyone affected” (Dvorak, Wall Street Journal I).

A new hydrogen blast at the plant would not necessitate an extension of the exclusion zone roughly 12 miles around the facility, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency indicated on Sunday.

“Another hydrogen explosion (at the plant) is one possibility that we can think about,” NISA Deputy Director General Hidehiko Nishiyama said. “Even if that happens, I don’t think we need to change the current evacuation zone.”

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One Response to “TEPCO – more details emerge”
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