After a few days of cautious optimism, the nuclear crisis in Japan has taken a more grim turn. In a speech to the nation Friday evening, Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the situation “very grave and serious,” and residents within an expanded 19-mile radius of the plant have been advised to evacuate.
What changed? After two workers were hospitalized yesterday after wading through highly radioactive water, officials tried to trace the water back to its source. They now believe the water may be coming from Reactor No. 3, suggesting a breach of containment.
If that turns out to be true, the devastated nuclear complex may be much more contaminated with radioactive materials than officials had previously thought.
The suspected reactor breach would mark a major setback for the crews racing to return power to the plant and bring its reactors and spent-fuel pools back under control.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Friday that the situation at Fukushima remained grave: “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”
… An examination of the water the workers sloshed through showed its radiation level to be 10,000 times higher than normal, said NHK. The radiation almost certainly came from the reactor itself, not the nearby spent-fuel pools, according to officials.”
So what does it all mean? For one thing, public support here in the United States has fallen significantly in the wake of the accident, as documented by a CBS poll released this week:
But on the other hand, there’s this. It’s a graphic representation of the number of deaths attributed to coal, oil and nuclear power, adjusted by the amount of power each generates:
That’s certainly fodder to argue that public wariness of nuclear power outpaces the actual danger it poses. However, you could counter that with the observation that oil and coal don’t require an evacuation zone with a 19-mile radius, an area of more than 2,200 square miles. A Russian nuclear expert has predicted that the immediate area around the Fukushima complex would be inhabitable again in, say, five years. But that was before the latest setback.
– Jay Bookman