Another Explosion at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant
Reports continued to come in Monday night detailing the third explosion to hit the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the past 4 days.The plant, located in northeastern Japan, was first ravaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that hit northern Japan last week. Soon after, two hydrogen explosions caused fires that have since been contained. News of the first two explosions only worsened the public's fear of a catastrophic release of radiation into the atmosphere. According to one report, the third explosion "was heard at 6:10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety Agency said at a news conference. The plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the explosion occurred near the suppression pool in the reactor's containment vessel. The pool was later found to have a defect."
Not good news. And while leaking radiation is a major fear, early reports still vary when it comes to just how bad the situation is. According to the TIME NewsFeed: "In a televised address to the nation at 11 a.m., Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke of the high-pressure situation. Kan advised people within 19 miles of the affected power plant to stay indoors. According to the Associated Press, some 180,000 people within a 12-mile radius had already been evacuated. "There is a very high risk of further radioactive leaks," he said."I ask you to stay calm." Still, it has been confirmed that "radiation leaks are now severe enough to pose a significant threat to people's health"...and that's a statement from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety spokesman.
The massive earthquake, which has shifted the entire island of Japan by an estimated eight feet, is truly a disaster on a global scale. It's also a disaster that has very suddenly thrust nuclear power back into the limelight...and to say the exposure has been unflattering would obviously be a gross understatement. This is the kind of disaster, on the scale of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, that will take people—both in Japan, and elsewhere—a very long time to forget...or forgive.
Right now, the hope is that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant will avoid a full meltdown. CBS News defines a meltdown as "when the nuclear fuel inside the reactor gets so hot, it literally melts. Uranium pellets are inside the long fuel rods. If the reactor is not cooled properly, the tubes can fall apart, with the radioactive material falling to the bottom." A description that sounds scarily like the preface to a China Syndrome-esque scenario, but CBS News has also reported that the situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not yet as bad as the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, and nowhere near the Chernobly tragedy: "Even with the two [update: three] Fukushima explosions, so far this is nothing like Chernobyl. In 1986, the control rods malfunctioned and the fuel rods melted down. A subsequent explosion catapulted tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere."
Good to know about the level of radiation, but some reports are already pointing out another concern for Japan's beleaguered citizens: what this earthquake will mean for their electricity rates. "About half of Japan's nuclear reactors will probably have to be inspected, reducing the nation's power generating capacity by 15 percent. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. That will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to potential power shortages during peak demand in Japan."
For now, preventing a meltdown and the leaking of excessive radiation is the number one priority. Soon, however, the quake's impact on utility rates—both within Japan and globally—will surely be making headlines. Has the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant impacted your stance on nuclear power? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Comment below to let us know how you feel about the future of nuclear power...