Japan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
By Paul Martin

Fukushima meltdown fears rise after radioactive core melts through vessel – but ‘no danger of Chernobyl-style catastrophe’

Ian Sample
Guardian.co.uk
Tuesday 29 March 2011

The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.

The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant. Readings from reactor two at the site have been made public by the Japanese authorities and Tepco, the utility that operates it.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have “lost the race” to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.

Workers have been pumping water into three reactors at the stricken plant in a desperate bid to keep the fuel rods from melting down, but the fuel is at least partially exposed in all the reactors.

At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel “lower head” of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.

“The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell,” Lahey said. “I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards.”

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