Tokyo Electric Power Co. said fuel rods are fully exposed in the No. 1 reactor at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.
The water level is 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said. The company doesn’t know how long the rods have been exposed, he said.
Tepco is trying to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after a quake and tsunami two months ago knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima station. The utility planned to flood the No. 1 containment chamber, which surrounds the reactor vessel, in a procedure known as water entombment to prevent fuel from overheating.
“I’ve been saying from the beginning the water tomb plan won’t work,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hokkaido University. “Tepco must work on a water circulation cooling system as soon as possible. They’ve been going round and round in circles and now realize this is what they need to do.”
It’s unlikely the situation has worsened with the discovery the rods are exposed because they’ve probably been out of the water since shortly after the crisis started, Narabayashi said.
In other words, the fuel rods in Reactor 1 have been exposed and in a slow meltdown cycle for close to two months. TEPCO's plan to flood the reactors with water to cool them is failing because of the quake and explosion damaged containment vessels, which are clearly full of leaks and unable to keep the water in the reactor core. Reactor 1 has been in meltdown for dozens of days now. TEPCO is simply hoping nobody notices.
So the environmental and human nightmare in Japan still continues. Meanwhile, Japan's politics are getting distinctly ugly. TEPCO quietly agreed to a de facto government takeover Wednesday.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Wednesday accepted six government conditions to ensure state support for the payment of massive compensation over the damage caused by the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
The conditions included confirmation that no ceiling would be set on compensation and that the utility would comply with a third-party investigation into its financial situation.
The latter condition means that TEPCO in effect will be put under public management.
TEPCO's acceptance of the six conditions laid the foundation for a compensation scheme calling for the establishment of a new entity to deal with damages payments.
And oh, are those damage payments going to be massive. I think the total damage in cleanup and compensation costs will be in the trillion range, and that's dollars, not yen. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan is desperately trying to keep his government in one piece, and he's having to give in on nuclear plants in Japan completely.
Japan is reassessing how it produces electricity after March's earthquake and tsunami sparked a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan this week persuaded the operators of another nuclear plant west of Tokyo to temporarily close it to make safety improvements. And he is canceling a plan to build more nuclear facilities.
Kan's decisions to back away from nuclear power came after an unusual number of public demonstrations. The protests have been more frequent because many Japanese have grown impatient with the government, says Koichi Nakano, who teaches political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
"Skeptics argue that, in fact, Japan has enough energy already as of now without nuclear power plants, using fossil fuels and hydro-electronic power generation, and so I think people are now becoming gradually exposed to those new facts," Nakano says.
We're looking a sea change in Japanese culture, folks. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is going to do for Japan what 9/11 did for us...only there's no "bad guy" to get...except maybe TEPCO itself.