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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 22 December, 2014

Coolant in fourth Fukushima reactor might be ‘boiling away’

Spent fuel is usually kept in a containment pond – but that’s beginning to evaporate away, causing further risks in Japan.

Vessels float on oil spilled water in Fudai in northern Japan.
Vessels float on oil spilled water in Fudai in northern Japan.
Image: Hiroshi Adachi/AP

THE STRICKEN NUCLEAR plant at Fukushima in Japan may be on the verge of yet another crisis, after authorities said that ‘spent’ nuclear waste at a fourth reactor at the plant was in danger of overheating.

Hidehiko Nishiyama confirmed to AP that the storage pond for waste fuel at the number 4 reactor in the plant was beginning to boil and evaporate away – potentially allowing the used-up fuel to begin overheating and become unstable.

Nishiyama, an official with Japan’s nuclear watchdog, had refused to discuss the potential risks of such an overheating – but did confirm that the problem had arisen due to the failure of the cooling system.

The report of the overheating had come from the local Kyodo news agency, which has been proven accurate in much of its reporting on the events at Fukushima I.

The International Atomic Energy Agency – the UN’s global nuclear watchdog – has confirmed a fire at the reactor earlier today but said the fire had been extinguished overnight.

That fire was likely caused by a hydrogen explosion in the pool, a government spokesman said, and it is not known what level of damage might have been incurred in the reactor by that blast.

The fire did, however, result in further radioactivity being emitted into the surrounding atmosphere.

Explosions at reactors 1 and 3 in the past days are thought only to have affected the containment buildings around those reactors; an overnight explosion at reactor 2, however, is thought to have caused some damage to the internal construction there.

The other two reactors at the six-reactor plant are also having problems with cooling, but authorities are confident that the situation at those reactors can be managed.

The level of radioactive emissions at the plants have dropped in the past few hours, after peaking at an hourly level eight times higher than the usual dosage considered safe on an annual basis.

Although the meteorological agencies of both Japan and South Korea have predicted that any radioactive emissions will be blown out to sea by overnight winds in Japan, where nightfall is approaching, recordings in Tokyo – which is 160 miles to the south-west of Fukushima – have shown a significant, though not serious, increase in the revel of radioactive particles in the air.

That news has caused a significant degree of concern among the capital’s residents, with train stations by people hoping to evacuate the city and travel to the south or west.

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