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Nuclear Worst Case Confirmed in Japan; Little Attention Given by Press or Pundits

Posted on Tuesday, 24th May 2011 @ 02:34 PM by Text Size A | A | A

Tepco Says Fuel Rods Melted Down in Two More Reactors at Fukushima Plant

Source: Bloomberg News

By Takeshi Awaji and Yuji Okada

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said fuel rods melted in two more reactors at its Fukushima nuclear plant, indicating for the first time that damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is matching worse-case-scenarios.

Fuel rods in reactors 2 and 3 had almost complete meltdowns, spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters in Tokyo today. That’s in line with U.S. assessments in the early days of the crisis that suggested damage to the station was more severe than Tokyo Electric officials estimated.

The meltdown of the cores is the “greatest at the No. 1 reactor, followed by the No. 3 unit and then No. 2,” Matsumoto said. The analysis of the damage became possible “after data from the central control room was retrieved.”

Japan’s biggest utility, known as Tepco, raised the possibility of more extensive destruction when it announced last week — more than two months after the disaster — that fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor had melted within 16 hours of the quake and cooling water was below the base of the rods.

“When Tepco announced there wasn’t any water in the No. 1 reactor pressure vessel, the speculation was that had also happened in No. 2 and No. 3 reactors,” said Ken Nakajima, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyoto University who specializes in reactor safety. “Now, they have confirmed what everyone expected.”

Tepco has been struggling to cool reactors and spent fuel pools to stop radiation leaks and resolve the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. On April 17 it set out a so-called road map to end the crisis in six to nine months.

Cold Shutdown

The utility said it expects to achieve a sustained drop in radiation levels at the plant within three months, followed by a cold shutdown, where core reactor temperatures fall below 100 degrees Celsius.

It reiterated the timetable last week in an update of the plan, drawing criticism from Tetsuo Ito, head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan.

Setting a timetable without knowing the condition of the reactor cores doesn’t make sense, Ito said in a phone interview from Osaka.

Today, Tepco’s Matsumoto said fuel rods in the No. 3 unit started melting on March 13 and those in the No. 2 reactor on March 14, The fuel dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel after melting although the damage to the vessel is “limited,” he said, without giving details.

Fuel Rods

Tepco shares closed little changed today at 333 yen in Tokyo. The stock has slumped about 85 percent since the quake and tsunami struck.

The fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor started melting about four and a half hours after the magnitude-9 earthquake when the water level in the reactor core vessel fell below the base of the assembly, Tepco said last week.

Engineers established the extent of the damage after fixing gauges in the reactor No. 1 building. The building was damaged by a hydrogen explosion on March 12. Workers were sent into the No. 2 and 3 buildings last week to establish whether repairs could be carried out on gauges.

To contact the reporters on this story: Takeshi Awaji in Tokyo at tawaji@bloomberg.net; Yuji Okada in Tokyo at yokada6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net

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