Already reeling from a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japan is now battling to prevent a third disaster in the shape of a nuclear leak. Workers at two nuclear plants in Fukushima are currently trying to reduce pressure, and the government has warned of a possible radiation leak. Kyodo News has quoted a Tokyo Electric Power Co. official as saying that they were having problems opening a valve to release pressure at the company's Daiichi reactor. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ordered an evacuation within a 10-kilometre radius of the two plants.
In its latest update, AP reports that residents within an about 20-kilometre radius have been advised to stay indoors. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reportedly said that diesel generators that would normally keep cooling systems running at the Daiichi plant had been disabled by tsunami flooding.
According to AP: ‘Defense Ministry official Ippo Maeyama said that dozens of troops trained for chemical disasters had been dispatched to the plant in case of a radiation leak, along with four vehicles designed for use in atomic, biological and chemical warfare.
‘If temperatures inside the reactor were to keep rising to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it could set off a chemical reaction that begins to make brittle the metallic zirconium that sheathes the radioactive uranium fuel.
‘That reaction releases hydrogen, which can explode when cooling water finally floods back into the reactor. That was a concern for a time during the 1979 Three Mile Island reactor accident in Pennsylvania.’
The death toll from the quake and tsunami has already reached 500, according to the National Police Agency, although most estimates suggest it will soon top 1000.
Bloomberg reported that the country has mobilized 8000 troops from its Self-Defence Forces, as well as 300 planes. Offers of help have poured into the country from overseas, including from Australia, China, New Zealand and the United States. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that the Japanese government had also requested assistance from US military based in Japan.
Bloomberg reported: ‘In Washington, US President Barack Obama said he was “heartbroken” over “a potentially catastrophic disaster” and called Kan to offer “whatever assistance is needed.” Several vessels in the US fleet are being repositioned to eastern Japan to assist if needed, said Lieutenant Commander Justin Cole, a Navy spokesman.’