Third explosion rocks Fukushima, radiation leak feared
01:30 15 March 2011
Michael Reilly, senior technology editor
A third explosion at 0610 local time at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may have damaged the steel containment vessel surrounding reactor #2, according to reports on the BBC website. Tokyo Electric Power Company officials reported that radiation levels at the plant spiked this morning at eight times what a person normally would receive during the course of a year, according to Kyodo New Agency.
Many workers remain on site at the plant, however, and a breach in the containment vessel has not been confirmed at this time.
1845 GMT, Monday 14 March 2011
Andy Coghlan and Michael Marshall, reporters
The situation at Japan's embattled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant has grown worse. One of the plant's six reactors is now close to meltdown, and while that's bad, it's not as apocalyptic as it might sound. New Scientist asked nuclear scientists to explain what has happened, and what the risks are.
First, "there is no possibility of a nuclear explosion," explains Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester's Dalton Research Institute. He says any such fears are "science fiction", as there is nowhere near enough radioactive uranium 235 in the reactor to create a nuclear explosion.
The real fear is that harmful radioactive material will escape from the reactor core.
Although all four reactors automatically shut down immediately after Friday's earthquake, engineers have struggled to cool down the reactor cores, because pumps that should have driven cooling water into the reactors failed. This meant that the reactors overheated, turning the water into steam.
The buildup of steam meant the pressure inside the reactor increased, making it impossible to pump more cooling water in. So the engineers vented the steam, carrying some radioactive caesium-137 and iodine-131 (both of which are produced by the uranium in the fuel rods) into the environment.
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