Japan Nuclear Crisis: External Power Reconnected at Fukushima 1


Photo: EPA / ASAHI SHIMBUN/STR/Corbis
Latest Update: Japan's Nuclear Crisis: 2 Weeks After the Mega-Quake & Tsunami (March 25, 2011)

But Potentially Radioactive Smoke is Slowing Things Down...
It's starting to look like the light at the end of the tunnel that was spotted yesterday is turning out not to have been a train. Relatively good news about Japan's nuclear crisis at Fukushima 1 kept coming during the past day, and a big breakthrough could be happening soon, as it is reported that workers have restored power to the control room and reactor units. If all goes well, this electricity will be used to pump water in the reactors and spent fuel pools and thus keep the nuclear material cool and under control. Read on for more details.
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (March 17, 2011) U.S. Air Force Airmen and members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense force load high-capacity pumps provided by the U.S. Navy onto a truck. The five pumps will be used by Japan's Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Group Nuclear Asset Management Department to assist in the effort to cool the core of the damaged No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrea Salazar/Released) Photo: U.S. Navy, public domain.

The best news first: Power cables have been connected to all reactors at Japan's Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant, according to the BBC. Lighting is now working in one control center (at unit #3). As mentioned yesterday, the goal is to restore power and use it both to pump water into the reactors and spent fuel storage pools, and to operate the plant's command center to better monitor water levels and temperatures in the reactor units. But before that can happen, integrity checks must be done on the equipment to make sure that it is in working condition (and if not, to figure out how to best fix or replace it).

Crews dumped 18 tons of seawater into spent fuel storage pool at unit 2, cooling it down to 41 celcius (105 F), according to MSNBC.


Map: Wikipedia, CC

Now the bad news:

Ei Yoshida, head of water purification for the Tokyo water department, said at a televised news conference that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water. He said iodine-131 had been detected in water samples at a level of 210 becquerels per liter, about a quart. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter. For adults, the recommended limit is 300 becquerels.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it was unlikely that there would be negative consequences to infants who did drink the water, but that it should be avoided if possible and not be used to make infant formula. (source)

210 becquerels is not very high, but it is still above the recommended limit so precautions should be taken. It is important not to panic, though, as fear and stress can probably have a bigger impact on human health than radiation at these low levels.

The Japanese government has released an estimate of the monetary costs of the earthquake and tsunami (which is different from the human and environmental costs). It could end up costing Japan around 25 trillion Yen, or about 309 billion US dollars, according to Kyodo News.

One factor that must not be underestimated is the psychological impact of this tragedy. Bloomberg has an article about the likelihood of a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in survivors, including children.

As many as a quarter of the worst-affected people may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, a cluster of symptoms that includes nightmares, sleeplessness and panic attacks, [Beverley Raphael, a professor of psychological medicine at the Australian National University in Canberra, and co-editor of the International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Studies,] said in an interview. While adolescents attuned to the reality of death may act out their trauma, younger ones find it harder to articulate their distress, she said.

Previous Updates on Japan's Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima
-March 14: Mini-FAQ About Japan's Nuclear Power Plant Crisis
-March 15: 6 Important Questions About the Crisis at Japanese Nuclear Power Plants
-March 16: Update on Japan's Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima I
-March 17: Ongoing Crisis at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant
-March 18: Japan's Nuclear Crisis, One Week Later
-March 21: Limited Progress Cooling Fukushima's Nuclear Reactors
-March 22: Light at the End of the Tunnel for Japan's Nuclear Crisis?
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