Monday, November 14, 2011

NYTs update on conditions at Fukushima plant

Reading Martin Fackler's story in the New York Times about his visit Saturday to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, eight months after the March 11 catastrophe. Fun facts:  There's a field full of 4 story-high tanks holding some 90,000 tons of contaminated water that had been dumped onto the reactors in an attempt to cool them. And so far Tepco has stored 480,000 sets of used protective clothing, discarded after each use by workers.

Fackler writes: "...[M]any nuclear experts say serious challenges remain. The biggest is the fact that the company does not know the exact condition of the fuel within the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, whose cores appear to have melted through the inner containment vessels. 'Cold shutdown is an indication that the accident phase is over,' said Akira Tokuhiro, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Idaho in Idaho Falls, 'but the next phase of cleaning up will take more than 20 years.'

"During the plant tour, the bus kept moving at the most contaminated areas near the base of the reactors to limit the time there and, thus, the radiation exposure. As it did, a radiation detector on the bus jumped to 300 microsieverts per hour — high enough to reach the annual recommended maximum dosage in just over three hours."

One worker tells Fackler that the mood at the plant is "totally different now." Radiation levels aren't so high outside the buildings, but still high within the reactor buildings but not so high outside, though there are hotspots. In the only building within the plant where protective clothing is not needed, "visiting journalists passed through a series of rooms where teams of workers systematically cut off the layers of protective clothing with scissors. The discarding is done in stages to limit contamination; booties come off in one room, the full body suit in another," Fackler writes.

Click to read the full article, Devastation at Japan Site, Seen Up Close

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