Five days after the disastrous tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan Friday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has yet to succeed in stabilizing its nuclear reactors in Fukushima.
After the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station exploded Saturday, its No. 3 reactor also suffered from a hydrogen explosion on Monday morning, local time. 11 people are severely injured from the latest explosion, according to reports.
The situation is far from under control.
It is now reported that the fuel rods at the same plant’s No. 2 reactor were fully exposed at one point after its cooling functions failed. The report indicates the possibility of the reactor's core’s total meltdown, raising the risk of damage to the reactor vessel and a possible radioactive leak, according to experts.
Tokyo Electric Power Company suspects that a hydrogen explosion at the nearby No. 3 reactor that occurred Monday morning may have caused a glitch in the cooling system of the No. 2 reactor.
The rods at the No. 2 reactor were exposed as a fire pump to pour seawater into the reactor to cool it down ran out of fuel, the company said.
The utility company, however, insisted that it resumed the seawater injection operation late Monday afternoon, and the water levels have recovered, now reaching at 2 meters below the tip of the fuel rods. [Update: As of 11:00p.m., Monday, local time, the fuel rods at the Fukushima nuclear plant's No. 2 reactor again became fully exposed, after the reactor's pressure-releasing valves closed, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.]
As the death toll keeps rising in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, and the continued fear for more explosions in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, we know that the disaster is still unfolding, and we are far from grasping the true magnitude of its gravity.
Masaya Ishida, publisher of EE Times Japan wrote to us via e-mail during his Sunday afternoon that the damage done to northern Japan, particularly areas along the east coast, is “beyond imagination.” He wrote: “Tens of thousands of people still remain unidentified as several towns on the coast got absorbed completely by the tsunami.”
Beyond continued search and rescue operations in northern Japan, as Ishida aptly summarized, the most immediate concerns engulfing Japan today are two-fold:
-the critical condition of the Fukushima nuclear power plants right now; and the extent of the health hazard in the surrounding area is still unknown
-decreasing electric power supply as a result of the failures at these nuclear power plants. According to one estimate, 30 percent of the power Tokyo Electric Power Co. is supplying to Tokyo and its surrounding areas – one of the most densely populated urban centers in the world -- are generated by the Fukushima nuclear plants.
Rolling blackouts in the Tokyo area are planned Monday morning, local time. The cutbacks are expected to be in effect until the end of April, according to the power company’s announcement.
Tokyo Electric Power will divide its service area -- consisting of Tokyo and eight surrounding prefectures -- into five groups, with the first suffering a power cut-off starting at 6:20. Each group will lose power for three hours within a specified time frame between 6:20 a.m. and 10 p.m., according to Nikkei, Japan’s economic newspaper.
Separately, the Japanese government has already issued a plea to the business community and individuals for “self-restraint” and “cooperation” to conserve electricity, which includes early closing hours for big retailers and the night-time use of neon signboards, for example.
Due to closures of highways and railroads, disruptions at ports and airports, distribution bottlenecks are already choking many companies’ supply-chain activities. Ships scheduled to deliver coal for power plants were stranded; many gas stations reportedly ran out of stock and were forced to close; online retailers like Amazon Japan have reportedly suspended same-day and other express delivery services in areas outside western Japan.
Again, most worrying is the condition of the nuclear power plants. After the Japanese government acknowledged a partial meltdown of the No. 1 reactor, which led to an explosion on Saturday, the No. 3 reactor, too, exploded Monday morning. The explosions at both reactors are believed to have been caused by hydrogen that tore the outer wall and roof off the buildings housing each reactor.
As it has already done with the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, Tokyo Electric Power is now flooding the No. 2 reactor with corrosive seawater, which might be a last- ditch effort to avert complete meltdown. The decision to use seawater to cool the reactor core is viewed by experts as an indication that Tokyo Electric Power and Japanese authorities have decided to scrap the plant.