Japan: Water Remains in Fuel Pool of Reactor #4

TOKYO—The Japanese government says that there is water covering the fuel rods in the spent-fuel pool of reactor #4 at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

On Wednesday, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) head Gregory Jaczko said at a U.S. congressional hearing that "there is no water in the spent-fuel pool" at reactor #4, Bloomberg reported. There were also reports that the zirconium cladding that makes up the fuel rods was burning, which could result in a massive radiation release.

But this evening Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency, told reporters that a review of video shot from a helicopter and an on-the-ground check by a worker had confirmed that there is water in the pool. If true, the announcement is one piece of good news in a week-long struggle to cool the fuel in the reactors and block the emanating radiation.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the stricken plant, has enlisted the help of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, the National Police Agency, and the Tokyo Fire Department to dump and spray water on the reactors using helicopters, water cannons intended for riot control, and fire trucks. "We think the water was duly delivered to the inside of unit 3," which should lower the temperature of fuel in the reactor, he said.

He also said that Tokyo Electric hopes to complete the installation of a transmission line to units 1 and 2 by Saturday and to units 3 and 4 by Sunday. The line would provide power to restart the reactor's own cooling systems, although workers may need to replace pumps possibly damaged by the fires and explosions. Nishiyama said the situation "is not getting worse, as to whether we can say it is under control we have to wait and see the outcome of the water spraying operations."

The Los Angeles Times had reported that photos taken by a Global Hawk drone suggested a "major breach" in the walls of the spent nuclear fuel pool was causing water to continually leak out. "I would suppose there are no cracks in the spent nuclear fuel pool. But this is a matter we need to verify urgently," said Nishiyama.

Nishiyama also said that the government has increased the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale level from 4, indicating an accident with local consequences, to 5, for an accident with wider consequences. The Three Mile Island accident of 1979 was rated 5; the Chernobyl disaster merited level 7. He said this did not indicate a deteriorating situation but rather a reassessment of what has already occurred.

Posted in Asia Japan Quake 2011