As the evening sets in here in London, and dawn approaches in Japan, the situation at the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi remains extremely precarious. According to the latest update from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), all three reactors still have their fuel exposed. Worryingly, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has put out just one terse release today about Fukushima Daiichi (at least in English releases). That statement makes no mention of the troubled reactors, or the radiation situation on site. The Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has also not put out any English releases today. This may indicate that the company and regulators have their hands full. Then again, they may have just given their translators a break.
According to NHK TV, today’s release of radioactive material has made operations at the plant more difficult. Radiation levels rose quite high early in the day, and have now fallen, but precautions still must be taken. World Nuclear News is reporting that TEPCO has left a skeleton staff of around 50 engineers to man the pumps and keep water flowing into the reactors.
Meanwhile, the spent fuel pools at units 4, 5, and 6, which were shut down at the time of the quake, are reportedly heating up. Already in unit 4, spent fuel is believed to be behind a morning fire that damaged the building’s roof. The fire may also have been behind the high radiation levels seen at the site, though there’s still a possibility that the blast in unit 2 was the cause.
With the fuel exposed, hydrogen build-up continues to threaten another explosion at the crippled reactors. Similarly, if the spent fuel pools cannot be kept covered in water, they could spark another fire at any of the reactor buildings.
There is some good news: the pressure in units 1 and 3 has stabilized, and radiation levels continue to fall, according to government officials. And with each passing day, the fuel produces less heat and becomes slightly less dangerous.
For full coverage of the Fukushima disaster, go to Nature’s news special.