Japan races to cool unstable nuclear plants

Marion Dakers
OPERATORS of the quake-crippled nuclear plant in Japan said they would try again yesterday to use military helicopters to douse overheating reactors, as US officials warned of a rising risk of a catastrophic radiation leak from spent fuel rods.

Japan had earlier called off helicopters attempting to pour water on its exposed nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi yesterday, amid fresh concerns about radiation levels above the site.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) tried to douse the plant, 220km from Tokyo, before sending in some of its 180 remaining ground crew to try and manage the unstable nuclear reactors.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 have nuclear rods exposed by one or two metres, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed yesterday, while the spent fuel pond below reactor 4 briefly caught fire.

“The situation at Daiichi is very serious,” said IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, who plans to fly into Tokyo today on a fact-finding mission. But he added, “despite the hydrogen explosions, reactors vessels and containment vessels stayed in tact. As a result, the release of radioactivity was limited.”

Fukushima residents between 20km and 30km from the plant have been told to remain indoors, but prefecture governor Yuhei Sato said there is a lack of information about the danger. “Anxiety and anger felt by people have reached boiling point,”?he said.

Radiation levels have risen in Tokyo, Amano said, but not enough to pose a danger to human health.

IAEA officials declined to comment on media reports based on Wikileaks documents that the international group has only revised its earthquake safety guidelines three times in the last 35 years, or on TEPCO’s handling of the disaster.

Analysts said yesterday that damage and injury caused by radioactive contamination is “uninsurable” by the private market, leaving Japan’s residents without any guarantee of financial protection in a meltdown.

BNP Paribas analyst Rafael Villareal said the cost of a nuclear disaster on people’s health and property would far exceed anything that private insurers or even an entire country’s insurers could provide. “When insurers say a risk is uninsurable, it means the government will end up picking up the tab,” he said.