Friday AM update

Radiation levels are rising across the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex after the apparent failure of  efforts to use hoses and helicopter delivered buckets of water to reduce the risk of ‘criticality’ as Japanese officials put it.

The information being provides by the Japan government, its regulator and the Tokyo Electric power company is being brushed aside by nuclear authorities abroad, including in Australia.  So are the earlier poorly informed claims by nuclear industry figures that its was impossible for Fukushima Daiichi to become as serious as Chernobyl.

Overnight an official of the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority has been quoted by Bloomberg as saying a lethal dosage of radiation beside exposed fuel rods at the site would be delivered in 16 seconds. Notwithstanding arguments about exactly what is exposed in which parts of  Fukushima Daiichi, even the Japanese authorities have conceded fuel rod exposures and the probability of at least partial melt downs of reactor cores and those in cooling ponds taking place.

That Bloomberg report looks at the burn and churn rate of the Daiichi workers, and can be found here.

Bloomberg has also researched the unbroken decades of lies, evasions and grossly incompetent decisions taken by Tokyo Electric and the Japanese nuclear regulators here.

This inability to speak truthfully about the crisis was apparent on Japan television last night, when a spokesperson for Tokyo Electric contradicted the claims about reactor No 4 made by the US nuclear regulator.  Who do we trust? Tokyo Electric has claimed that the reduction of radiation levels near reactor 3 from 292 mill sieverts an hour to 289 milli sieverts an hour is a success!

The US media is full today of archived warnings about the deficiencies of the GE reactor design predominantly used in its original form at Fukushima Daiichi, dating back to 1971 when it was built.  Those criticisms were fiercely resisted by what in retrospect looks like a cadre of compromised nuclear scientists defending the indefensible.

This compromised commentary is painfully apparent in the commentary still coming from within the nuclear establishment.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald web site includes a remarkably frank and graphically illustrated interview with Associate Professor Tilman Ruff at the University of Melbourne explaining how Fukushima Daiichi can become much more serious than Chernobyl which can be viewed here.

While it may seem unduly dramatic to some, France and Germany have urged their nationals to leave Tokyo as soon as possible.

Air France has been directed to provide an emergency airlift.

Australia’s current guidance through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is not concerned about radiation but  the breakdown of infrastructure and conditions in or near the earthquake and tsunami affected areas of Honshu.

The Department has advised Australians to consider leaving those areas but says its advice  had nothing to do with the threat of nuclear contamination from the damaged plant.

“We are providing this advice because of the continuing disruption to major infrastructure, its impact on the welfare of people on the ground and continuing aftershocks,” its notice says.

However this measured response to the crisis may be tested by the sudden flow of commentary on the Japan nuclear crisis situation by US authorities, both directly and indirectly, and blunt observations by the governments and nuclear regulators of France, Germany and Switzerland, who no longer seem prepared to take a lead on these matters from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says all the coolant is gone from one of the spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi No 4 reactor, meaning it is baking hot and will without extremely rapid intervention, melt down.

This is not being alarmist, but factual. If ‘hot’ nuclear fuel rods and other highly radioactive contaminants are released from effective coolant enclosure they burn, and melt, and the process will continue over a prolonged period and can be punctuated by violent explosions attributed to hydrogen gas ignitions.

The effect of this on the closely spaced six reactor complex is to make it so intensely radioactive that intervention has to be remote, perhaps more remote than the water cannons being called for by Tokyo Electric pending its completion of a power line later today to enable water pumping to resume.

This development overnight at reactor No 4 also complicates in a major way the issues with reactor No 2 where the authorities have admitted to substantial internal damage but not shared all of the details with the public.

Amid the stream of conflicting or incomplete information one thing is apparent. External bodies like the NRC in the US are telling the world things Japan has kept to itself.

However the language of the Japan government has changed to one of pleading for help.

The Prime Minister Naoto Kan last night referred to the need for foreign assistance to prevent ‘a catastrophe.’  The word ‘catastrophe’ carries obvious implications.

There should be no doubt now that a catastrophe is occurring at Fukushima.

The NRC and US Department of Energy have nuclear scientists in Japan who were until recently physically close to the Fukushima Daiichi complex.  Both the NRC and Department of Energy are no longer adhering to the protocol of not publicly commenting on the nuclear affairs of another friendly state.

This is a vital pointer to how grave the situation is, and how much disquiet may have arisen over Japan’s capacity to cope.