Over night, four lead lined military helicopters dumped 30 tons of water on the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The seawater was meant to cool the reactors, and the fill the water in the pools of spent fuel rods, which have reportedly boiled dry at reactor No. 4. Eleven water cannon trucks joined the effort. However, ABC is now reporting that officials have suspended more water flights by helicopters due to high levels of radiation.
The helicopters and water trucks were employed because levels of radiation within the plant have made it extremely dangerous for workers to be directly in the plant for extended periods of time. It is likely, though, that because of the high radiation levels, the trucks are parked too far away from the plant to actually be useful. It’s still unclear if the water dropped by the helicopters hit the reactors and helped to cool them. The four helicopters made the first mission even though radiation levels 300 feet above the plant were 87.7. millisieverts per hour.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that they believe the spent fuel pool at No. 4 had lost a significant amount, if not all, of its water. If the fuel rods are exposed, there is nothing to stop them from heating and melting down. Many experts believe that a fuel rod fire poses a greater risk than the reactors because the fuel rods do not have a protective covering like reactors do.
The U.S. government has expanded its evacuation zone for American citizens in Japan to 50 miles around the plant, and they are offering chartered flights to nearby airports. Japanese officials, however, still insist that their set evacuation zone of 12 miles is sufficient. The Japanese government also announced that it will be releasing less information about the situation, and a spokesperson from the Tokyo Electric Power Company denied claims that the fuel rods were exposed, saying that reactor No. 4 is stable. A recent Wikileaks report shows that Japan was warned more than two years ago about safety issues at its nuclear plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency specifically told officials that the plants would not be able to withstand earthquakes greater than 7.0 magnitude.
Many hope that the IAEA will exert pressure on the Japanese to increase its precautions. The agency has called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.
Compiled from various news reports.