It’s been a while since we’ve updated readers on the nuclear crisis in Japan, thanks to the start of the military offensive in Libya and a lull in news from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. Today, as most days, the crisis brings both good news and bad news. Two reactors belched steam and smoke into the air today, a worrying sign that the crisis still has a way to go before being resolved:
Smoke and steam rose from two of the most threatening reactors at Japan’s quake-crippled nuclear plant on Tuesday, suggesting the battle to avert a disastrous meltdown and stop the spread of radiation was far from won. …
Kyodo news agency said steam appeared to rise from reactor No. 2 and white haze was detected above reactor No. 3. There have been several blasts of steam from the reactors during the crisis, which experts say probably released a small amount of radioactive particles.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said later the smoke had turned to steam and it was deemed safe to continue work in bringing the plant under control. Japan’s nuclear safety agency said steam was believed to be coming off a spent nuclear fuel pool at reactor No.2.
Japan has also detected higher levels of radiation in the seawater nearby the plant:
Now, seawater near the tsunami-crippled plant is showing elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium. In response, the government is testing seafood.
The cuplrit appears to be radioactive matter swept out to sea from the massive amount of water poured on the reactors over the last two weeks. The runoff trapped escaping particles, which naturally ended up in the sea.
The food-chain consideration is serious but temporary. As smaller organisms absorb pollutants of any kind and then get ingested in bulk by larger animals, the pollutant concentration increases all the way to the top of the food chain. If that happens with radiated seafood, then theoretically the radiation could be strong enough to damage human health, although that would depend on the decay rate of the radiation and the nature of the particles themselves. If it did get dangerous, it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The water itself doesn’t present much of a threat; like the milk in the area, one would have to drink it for a year just to get a single millisievert, about the same dose one gets in a year from being on the planet.
The good news is that power has now been connected to cooling systems in all six reactors, and one restored to operation:
Technicians working inside an evacuation zone around the stricken plant on Japan’s northeast Pacific coast have attached power cables to all six reactors and started a pump at one of them to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods.
In the next few hours, TEPCO should be able to restore function to the rest of the cooling systems and put an end to the acute crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, assuming the cooling systems were undamaged from the last two weeks of emergency efforts to cool the cores.