Data shows Fukushima damage more than expected | Connect Asia

Data shows Fukushima damage more than expected

Data shows Fukushima damage more than expected

Posted 19 May 2011, 13:48 AEST

Prime Minister Naoto Kan says Japan needs to fundamentally rethink how nuclear power is regulated in the country.

Mr Kan stopped short of saying how big a role atomic energy would play in Japan's future. Japan is trying to contain a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, after the massive earthquake and tsunami in March, wrecked the plant's cooling systems, leading to radiation leaks. The government has sought to reassure the nation, saying it will extend compensation to evacuees suffering emotional damage.

Reporter: Karon Snowdon

Speaker: Tony Irwin, lecturer in nuclear technology, Australian National University

SNOWDON: The new information reveals the problems at the Fukushima power plant are bigger than previously thought. And although perhaps not unexpected they present big problems for the Japanese authorities and the plant operator TEPCO. Melted fuel rods have damaged the containment vessels in reactor one, and possibly although not confirmed by TEPCO at reactors two and three.

Tony Irwin teaches nuclear technology at The Australian National University having gained extensive experience in managing nuclear power plants and research reactors in Britain and Australia.

IRWIN: Originally they were looking at 55 percent core damage but now they believe it looks like more extensive core damage.

SNOWDON: How serious is this new information?

IRWIN: It's affecting their restoration program in that instead of having a simple recirculation and heat exchanger to cool down reactor one there's now water in the reactor building and also into the turbine building bec of some failure of the primary containment. So now they have to look at a system for recovering water from the turbine building, treating it, decontaminating it and then reinjecting it back into the reactor cooling water.

Tony Irwin says its unlikely there's a large amount of radiation off-site and the operator seems to have contained the contaminated water.

IRWIN: Longer term the decomissioning of the plant will be more difficult. It will be quite difficult to remove the remains of the fuel from the remains of the reactor vessel but that's what they had to do at Three Mile Island so it is possible. But the immediate problem is the contaminated water management.

TEPCO'S Vice President Sakae Muto told a press conference despite the more serious situation the company will still meet its goal of achieving a cold stable shutdown of the leaking plant in six to nine months.

MUTO: The timeline to achieve the goal has not changed. We continue to have contingent factors and risks, but we want to stick to our plans to complete step one in mid-July and step two within the next three to nine months.

Tony Irwin explains TEPCO's task is complicated because it has not one but three reactors to shutdown.

IRWIN: It does take quite a long time to be able to unload damaged fuel from a reactor for instance. And particularly in this case its a three reactor accident. So we're looking at Chernobyl, TMI (Three MIle Island): single reactors, they've got three reactors. Plus the reactor four has got the spent fuel problem. But the big problem at the moment I think is managing the dose of their workers because they've got this 250 millisieverts dose limit for the workers. And they have to very carefully manage that because its such an extended emergency situation.

SNOWDON: The government has ordered more people to evacuate from the 20 zone given the volume of contamination and for safety's sake. How long before people evacuated can expect to go home if at all?

IRWIN: I think that's the question that can't be answered at this stage.

KAN: I would like to express the determination of the government to the people of Japan that we take responsibility (for the damage caused by the nuclear accident) right to the end.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan promising the people of Japan the government is determined to meet its responsibilities for the nuclear damage to the end of the crisis. Most lately, a government panel is working on guidelines for compensating people forced to evacuate to now include payments for stress and emotional damage. The panel has found that while free living in crowded halls and gymnasiums causes the most stress.

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