Headlines about Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant are becoming rare. But that says more about fickle nature of the media than it does about the tremulous state of affairs at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant (FDI). Despite progress in restoring electricity to some areas of FDI, a member of the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority commented yesterday, “We still judge the situation to be critical.”
The truth is, Japan’s nuclear crisis is far from over. Not buying it? Here’s the evidence:
1. Radiation at FDI reactor No. 2 spiked yesterday to 500 microsieverts per hour — the highest level since the crisis began on March 11. Officials say they don’t know the source of the radiation, but likely suspects include the reactor’s containment vessel, the suppression chamber or the spent fuel rod pool — all of which could have been damaged in the explosion of hydrogen gas.
The gas was generated when the outer layer of the fuel rods overheated because of a lack of coolant (i.e., water).
2. Good news/bad news. The good news is that thermometers inside the reactors are back up and running. The bad news is what they show. The reactors are designed to operate at 302°C (575°F). According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns and operates the plant, Reactor No. 1 hit 394°C (741°F).
That spells trouble.
3. The high temperature is especially troublesome at a power plant with a long history of rigging safety tests to produce desired outcomes, falsifying safety records, and lacking even a minimal sense of the catastrophic possibilities associated with nuclear power production.
According to its own admission, between 1986 and 2001, TEPCO committed major safety violations 16 times. These included illegally injecting air into the primary containment vessel of Reactor No. 1 while testing the unit’s “leakage rate.” (This occurred in 1991 and 1992.)
After these actions became public, the company prepared a document in 2004, titled, “Lesson Learned From TEPCO Nuclear Power Scandal.” It makes for some pretty sober reading, especially under the current circumstances. In looking at the root causes of the scandal, the report cited “nuclear engineers’ over-confidence of their nuclear knowledge.”
Even more troublesome is TEPCO’s admission that “we had no clear rules to judge whether equipment was fit for service.”
You can read the rest of the article at Forbes.com.